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Court hires Pike Co. firm to plan recreation center




The Letcher Fiscal Court is not a believer in shopping locally at Christmas — at least when it comes to hiring an architect to design the county’s proposed new $6 million recreation center in downtown Whitesburg.

At its December meeting this week, the court voted 5-1 to hire Summit Engineering of Pikeville instead of Richardson Associates Architects of Whitesburg to design the new center to be located on the old A&P food store site near Dairy Queen.

Magistrates Bobby Lewis, Archie Banks, Codell Gibson, and Keith Adams joined Judge/Executive Jim Ward in voting for Summit, which Adams, Banks and Ward had given their highest scores in an evaluation performed during a special called meeting earlier this month.

Lewis and Gibson said Monday that while they had originally voted to support the hiring of Richardson Associates at the Dec. 5 meeting they changed their vote this week in the interest of court unity and the recommendation of Summit on Dec. 12 by a three-member committee which had reviewed the proposals and fee schedules of both firms.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming cast the only vote against hiring Summit. Fleming says he is against building the new center because he doesn’t believe the county has the population to support a building the magnitude being talked about.

Banks, the magistrate for District Two, explained his support of Summit in terms of what he called “free money.” That is, grant funds generated by the company to help pay for the cost of the project. Banks said that Summit has a department dedicated to lobbying in Frankfort and in Washington, D.C. to obtain government funding.

“It came down to free money for me,” said Banks. “They both made good presentations. But they (Summit) have lobbyists that work in Frankfort and Washington looking for all the money they can get to do this.”

Bill Richardson of Richardson Associates told the court that his firm has helped to find creative funding solutions for a number of projects it has been associated with and has obtained funding from private sources as well as government funding at every level. Richardson said he and his wife Josephine, an owner of the Courthouse Café and Cozy Corner gift shop in Whitesburg, have lived and worked in Letcher County for 40 years. Several of Richardson Associates employees also spoke about the importance of keeping the project in local hands.

“We want to express our feeling of commitment to you and the court,” said Richardson, a Yale University-educated architect who designed the new Letcher County Health Department and has won numerous awards for his other work, including East Ridge High School in Pike County. “We would like for you to support us. We can do a good job and our price is fair. The project will be great. We have been part of a lot of projects both in and out of the county and have experience with a lot of sources of funding. We’re working on the hospice in Hazard and every project we do has a lot of different funding sources. We’ve done schools, and have done creative funding in all areas.”

Summit was represented at the meeting by Letcher County resident and former Richardson Associates employee Jack Waddles, who told the court he and his wife have lived in the county for 28 years and raised three children here. Waddles said his wife has taught school for 28 years in Letcher County. He also pointed out that two of Summit’s partners are from Jenkins, Phil Lucas and Tracy Goff, who is a member of the Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education. Waddles said Summit employs a number of people from the county and does a lot of engineering business here as well.

Supporters of hiring locallyowned independent businesses say that a local business returns approximately 80% of each dollar spent back to the community. A “multiplier effect” often cited by those who support keeping business local says that one dollar spent at a locally owned business will return five times that amount within the community through city taxes, employees’ wages, and purchase of materials and supplies at other independent businesses.

Summit Engineering is the project engineering company for the new Whitesburg/Letcher County wastewater treatment plant which is nearing completion.

In other business, the court declined to accept the 2009 operating budget for the Letcher County Water and Sewer District, an agency which is currently without a chief operating officer and board of directors.

Ward said the proposed budget contains a deficit, although he said the actual deficit figure was confusing because one part of the budget indicated the deficit was more than $100,000 while another part indicated the deficit was more than $300,000.

Banks introduced a motion to refuse the budget and said he wished someone from the Water and Sewer District Board had attended the meeting to answer questions about the budget. Judge Ward said the court would need clarification on a number of points before they could approve the budget and that it could not legally contain a deficit.

Ward said the 2007-08 budget had money left over and wondered why, since customers have been added in the past year, the 2008-09 budget would carry a deficit. Banks said nothing in the budget made any sense at all and complained about the loss of treated water as well. He said that in one part of his district, treated water is allowed to run into the creek.

“We do have nice water in the creek,” said Banks. “I don’t know how you can have a budget with a $300,000 deficit and then tell us they are independent. We can’t afford to put any more customers on at this rate.”

County Treasurer Phillip Hampton questioned the rate of collections in light of the deficits and said the proposed budget contains a $103,000 increase in depreciation of the lines. Ward said that by law, the budget has to be balanced and the format the Water and Sewer District used for its balance sheet is not the same as the ones they previously used.

The Water and Sewer District has been kept operational by a secretary and four other employees since former director Greg Pridemore left for a higher-paying job and three vacancies were created on the board of directors by resignation and term expirations.

The court also tabled the 2009 operating budget for Sheriff Danny Webb until it could learn more about proposed increases in hazardous duty retirement pay. Ward told Webb he has been told that rates will increase as much as $3,400 a month for the county’s participation in hazardous duty retirement.

Webb said that only the sworn officers in his department carry the retirement plan. Deputy Lashawna Frazier told the court the budget must be submitted by January 15. Ward said he would call a special meeting before then to approve the budget.

The court did accept an amended 2007 budget which includes receipts from unmined minerals taxes. The court also voted unanimously to accept Letcher County Court Clerk Winston Meade’s $596,953 operating budget for 2009.

In response to a question from Magistrate Wayne Fleming, Sheriff Webb noted that arrests have gone up since two more deputies were hired using additional money provided by the court last year.

Ward said he and several court members will attend a question and answer session with Governor Steve Beshear today (Wednesday) to learn more about the increase in retirement expenses and a proposal to take an extra $48 million in unbudgeted coal severance tax funds from the coal and gas producing counties to apply to the state’s budget deficit. Ward said the situation in most counties is bad enough without the state taking the severance tax funds away from the counties where the extractive industries take place. Ward called the process “balancing the state’s budget on the backs of the counties.”

In other business at Monday night’s court meeting:

• Benny Hamilton of KRADD told the court it has taken longer than anticipated to finish plans for the Pioneer Horse Trail. Hamilton said the environmental assessment is almost finished and he will implement suggestions by State Wildlife Biologist Karen Aleksi into the plan. Judge Ward added that Aleksi had requested that a trails specialist examine the trail system for safety.

• Homeland Security Director Paul Miles reported on a plan to establish an ATV rescue team for stranded hikers and ATV and horseback trail riders. Miles said he wants to incorporate members from all the first responders in the county as well as sportsmen. Miles said that due to existing search and rescue divisions of national forests and other agencies, the department will be stand alone and will be strictly dedicated to recovering lost hikers and trail riders. The court approved his request to apply for several grants.

• In the Treasurer’s Report, County Treasurer Phillip Hampton told the court he used $200,000 from the Sherriff ‘s unmined minerals settlement to repay the Road and Bridge Fund and the court still has to repay about $150,000 from other sources to balance the fund.

• Doris Adams of the Letcher County Tourism Committee told the court the committee had met recently but had trouble getting enough for a quorum. She said the committee has approved a rule saying that if a member misses three meetings in a row he or she can be replaced by the court.

• Jim Scott of the McRoberts Improvement Committee submitted a petition from residents of Band Mill Road in McRoberts to change the name of their street to Veterans Boulevard. Judge Ward said the 911 addresses would have to be changed as well and Scott said they were agreeable to the change. Magistrate Fleming moved to start the process and the court voted unanimously to approve it.

In reports from county agencies:

• Senior Citizens Director Trenda Kincer reported that Ermine Seniors had used the Jenkins center during the water contamination situation and that along with the water problems at Oven Fork had contributed to a decrease in the meal count. She said seniors at all the centers received flu shots and health information from the Health Department and Pikeville Methodist Hospital. Senior Citizens served 5,588 home delivered meals and 2,692 congregate (served in centers) meals in November.

• Letcher County Litter Warden Darrell Banks reported checking three new dumps in November and getting one in Millstone cleaned up. He answered nine complaints and had property owners clean up around four homes. Banks spent one day in court prosecuting two individuals. One was scheduled for pre-trial and another pled guilty and cleaned up a dump in Millstone.

• In the County Road Foreman’s report, work crews graveled and graded roads throughout the county and carried water to the Oven Fork Senior Citizens Center. They also worked on the water there and took water to the recycling plant as well. County work crews also cut brush, cleared roads to cemeteries, and did other work as necessary.

• County bank balances as of December 1:

General Fund — $242,916.83

Road and Bridge Fund — $768,244.61

Jail Fund — $218,496.06

LGEA Fund — $1,058,431.01

Senior Citizens Fund – $37,191.45

Forestry Fund — $3,922.72

Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $445,972.58

Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account $101.39


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