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Court members oppose rate hike

Kentucky Power Company’s request for a 34.5-percent rate increase has stirred anger and concern among members of the Letcher County Fiscal Court.

Judge/Executive Jim Ward began a special session of the court on Dec. 29 by praising local power company workers and linemen from as far away as Arkansas and Mississippi for their tireless efforts in bad conditions to restore electricity to more than 7,000 Letcher County families. He then read from the text of a power company press release announcing the proposed rate hike and expressed concern as to how people on fixed incomes and working people will be able to pay the large rate hike if it is approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission, which regulates utility rates in the state.

The December 29 meeting was called to make up for the regular meeting, which was canceled because of the many emergency situations throughout the county from the snowstorm a week earlier. Ward told the court he would call another special meeting in January to gather citizen input for a formal request to the PSC to deny Kentucky Power’s request.

“People around here cannot stand a 35-percent rate increase,” said Ward. “That would add almost another $100 to a $300 power bill. I don’t feel like there should be any way anybody can just get a 35-percent increase. We have to do what we can do to keep this from happen- ing. How many people have already had to throw everything in their freezer and refrigerator out?”

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming said he and other court members had all worked around the clock to try to get power restored to citizens of Letcher County and praised the efforts of local people working to help their fellow citizens. He added that he believes a big part of the problem was that electrical line right-ofways have not been maintained properly, which contributed to the trees falling on power lines. Fleming said he will contact the Public Service Commission on Letcher County’s behalf, although he said he may have to mend a few fences to do it.

“I guess I’ve made everybody on the PSC mad in the last 10 years,” said Fleming. “We all need to call our elected officials and ask them not to allow this to happen. Some people didn’t even get to have any Christmas at all because of the power failure. Now they (Kentucky Power) have a lot of nerve to ask for a rate increase. I haven’t heard of a right-of way being cut in 10 years.”

District Two Magistrate Archie Banks said it is his understanding that right-of-ways are supposed to be cut every seven years. Banks said he had spoken to out-of-state workers in his district who were working to restore power and they said they were shocked at the condition of the right-of-ways. Banks also complimented county employees and volunteers for their efforts in helping people make it through the emergency.

“The Search and Rescue Team was worth a fortune to us,” said Banks. “They helped people everywhere and they hardly stopped.”

“It was hard to get them to stop long enough to get some rest,” replied Ward. “The County Road Department, Sanitation workers, Senior Citizens employees, and other county workers all worked around the clock.”

Ward said Letcher County workers were praised by National Guard soldiers for their preparedness and willingness to cooperate in making every effort to help citizens. He added that he believes getting the Guard into Letcher County early had helped a good deal in getting basic necessities to those who were without.

“I declared an emergency early Saturday and the Guard got in early,” said Ward. “The lieutenant in charge said Letcher County was the most prepared of any they have worked with. He said they got excellent cooperation and our workers stayed on the job and helped them instead of just turning it over to them. The Guard members don’t live here so they needed help in finding people and places. He said his unit has been to eight emergencies and Letcher County’s workers were the best.”

In other business, the court approved Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb’s 2010 budget. Deputy LaShawna Frazier presented the $928,659 budget, which she said comes in under the department’s expected $929,000 in receipts. County Court Clerk Winston Meade also presented his budget of $6,115,908, which also is lower that his office’s expected income of $6,126,000. Meade said he will be back in January to present the court with a check for settlement for excess fees.

The court opened annual bids on items necessary to manage county departments and to maintain county property. Winning bidders are as follows: asphalt, Mountain Enterprises; culverts, Action Auto, unless they can be purchased for less on state contract; fuel and other oil products, J. Follace Oil, unless they can be purchased cheaper at state rates; crushed limestone, Mountain Aggregate in Jenkins and CEMEX in Gordon, depending on the work site; concrete and cement, L.M. Wright Trucking; electrical services, Brooks Electrical Service, including bids for all county property; plumbing, Breeding Plumbing and Electric; carpentry, Blair Real Estate.

The court also voted to award the bid for lights at the Earnest Cook Ball Park in Whitesburg to Brooks Electric, which was the low bidder. The bid did not include the soccer fields, which County Attorney Bolling said probably could not be added later as a change order but will have to be part of an independent bid. Bolling said he will speak with state officials on change orders to make certain how much a change order can cover.

In response to a question from residents of the Red Star/Ulvah area, Judge Ward said the water line project should be under bid by February and construction will begin soon after. Magistrate Banks said a number of water line projects will go to construction soon after the first of the year.

In other court business:

• The court voted unanimously to approve a joint resolution with Knott County to file a Kentucky Local Government Economic Development Fund project proposal for up to $500,000 in multi-county coal severance funds for the proposed Knott/ Letcher airport.

The court voted unanimously to name the following bridges after Letcher County veterans:

• Bridge at Fleming-Neon Superette after Master Sgt. John K. Holland

• Bridge one-quarter mile at Lilley Cornett Woods, Panther Branch Drive at Hallie for Tech Five George Whitaker.

• Bridge at Hemphill Elementary School for Specialist Leonard Fleming.

• Bridge located at the Junction of Highways 463 and 510 at Gilly for PFC Ray Roark.

• Bridge located at the Junction of Highways 931 and 2035 near Cowan School for Specialist Earnest C. Adams.

• Bridge located at the Mouth of Ramey’s Fork in Haymond for Staff Sgt. Thomas G. Wright.

• The court also voted to dedicate the county road on Abner Branch off Highway 160 to Seaman First Class Luther Meade and Section 15 at Whitesburg, coming off the bypass to Mountain Heritage Village, for Specialist Travis White, to be called Travis White Memorial Avenue.

• Bank balances for county agencies as of December 18 are:

• General Fund $406,652,98

• Road and Bridge Fund $1,318,222.81

• Jail Fund $142,735.94

• LGEA Fund $541,545.31

• Senior Citizens Fund $22,459.85

• Forestry Fund $8,705.14

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $481,998.49

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account $95.40

• Letcher County AML (Abandoned Mine Lands funds must be zeroed out at the end of each month) $0.00.

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