An effort to stop a scheduled $2 increase in monthly garbage collection rates in Letcher County ended almost as quickly as it began this week during the August meeting of the Letcher Fiscal Court.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming’s proposal to end the planned rate hike was defeated by virtue of a tie vote Monday night when three court members voted for Fleming’s motion and three voted against it.
Fleming introduced the motion to keep the current collection rates in place by saying the county had experienced a high level of unemployment brought on by a slump in the coal industry since the fiscal court approved the rate increase in June. Fleming, District Two Magistrate Terry Adams and Judge/Executive Jim Ward voted in favor of Fleming’s motion, while District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson, District One Magistrate Bobby Howard and District Four Magistrate Keith Adams voted no. Because the vote ended in a tie, no action could be taken and the increase will stand.
Ward said the county’s collection of garbage fees has increased greatly since Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton has begun to prosecute customers — 21 of them so far — who are seriously delinquent. Ward added that 50 new customers have been added and revenues are also up because of efforts by sanitation department workers to see that all households receiving service are being billed. Ward said that collections increased from $56,995 in July 2011 to $78,542 in July 2012.
Severance collections down
Ward also told the court that projected revenues from coal severance taxes are down by $248,000 for the first two quarters of the current fiscal year. Ward said he has heard some better news about possible increases in coal use for electrical power generating and hopes it will result in increased mining and mine related employment in the county.
Ward told the court he has heard that Duke Energy, Georgia Power, and Florida Power and Light are looking at returning to coal for generating electricity and attributed the possible moves to increases in the price of natural gas as well as higher BTU generation from burning coal. Ward emphasized that the news about the three power generating companies was hearsay and none of the firms have made any official statements concerning a switch back to coal.
Water a topic again
Water continued to be a topic for the court this month as Lonnie Wright of Creekside Stables on Cumberland River asked about progress on extending water lines from Harlan County to serve residents in the Cumberland River area of Letcher County.
Wright said he had spoken with Harlan County Judge/Executive Joe Grieshop who told him the water tank to serve the area will be built soon and that the Cumberland River area will have water by sometime next year.
Ward said he had recently spoken to Grieshop as well and said Grieshop told him he wanted the work, which will also increase capacity in Cumberland, finished by spring and said Harlan County has the funding for the project.
Jimmy Hall and Chris Yonts of Mill Creek also spoke before the court about the necessity of getting water lines run to that area. The Mill Creek lines are funded through a line item in the current state budget and will be bid as part of Phase II of the Deane Water Project. Yonts thanked the court for its efforts to get an interim water supply to him while the waterline extension is finalized and said he has tested water in streams in the area and found they are heavily contaminated, most likely from mining operations.
Hall told the court he has conducted a private survey and is amazed at the number of health issues on Mill Creek, including cancer and heart disease. He said it is an old story — bad water and health issues.
Paul Nesbitt of Nesbitt Engineering, who is working with the City of Jenkins in the administration of the Payne Gap Water Project, told the court that Phase I of the Payne Gap project is nearly complete, except for extending lines to Fishpond Lake and some clean-up. He said that a total of 180 houses can be added as county customers in Phase I. All the lines in the entire Payne Gap Project will be turned over to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District when the project is complete.
In response to a question from Magistrate Fleming about delays caused by a lack of water meters, Nesbitt said the meters were ordered according to specifications but the wrong meters were received and put in storage by the Letcher County Water and Sewer District while the construction progressed. Nesbitt took the blame for not inspecting the meters when they arrived, but said the meters were returned and the right ones are now being installed. He said about 30 homes have been hooked up out of the possible 180.
Nesbitt also said an agreement is in place with the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) for $3 million to build Phase II of the three-phase Payne Gap project which will take lines to Millstone and down US 119 and across Bottom Fork as well. He added that the tank at the junction of US 119 and US 23 will be finished and ready for use about the same time the water line extensions are complete.
Nesbitt also told the court that AML has agreed to fund a line connecting the Jenkins water system with Fleming-Neon water lines near Haymond. He said the lines will only serve between 16 and 20 houses but could prove to be crucial in the event Fleming-Neon suffers from water shortages in the two wells that serve the city.
The people who make the Letcher County Mountain Heritage Festival happen were honored Monday evening.
Several committee members attended the meeting where they received a plaque honoring the festival’s selection as one of the Top Ten Festivals in Kentucky by the Kentucky Travel Industry Association. Ward presented the plaque and praised the current committee as well as past members. The top festivals are chosen by a panel of impartial judges. Criteria include popularity of the events, the impact on the local tourism economy, and cultural and historical significance.
The current Mountain Heritage Festival Committee consists of Lee Anna Mullins (Chairman), Lee Adams, Rachel Baker, Derek Barto, Sally Barto, Patricia Bentley, Whitney Bentley, Mendy Boggs, David Caudill, Connie Fields, Donnie Fields, Phillip Hampton, Tina Hogg, Wendy Jones, Robert Lewis, Tricia Lewis, Carol Anne Litts, Missy Matthews, Angie Mullins, Charles Polly, and Aaron Profitt.
Letcher County Tourism Committee Chairman David Narramore also praised the committee and said that because the festival was selected as one of the top ten in Kentucky it will also be featured in the September issue of Kentucky Monthly magazine, which has a subscription circulation of nearly 50,000 and averages selling more than 150,000 copies a month including newsstand sales. Narramore said more than 200,000 people will see the issue and read about the Mountain Heritage Festival, which he said will be invaluable in promoting tourism in Letcher County.
Mrs. Mullins, the committee chair, thanked the court and credited past chairmen and committees for the overall success of the festival. She also said that that since it began 30 years ago, the festival has given $45,000 to education in Letcher County, $4,000 to libraries throughout the county, and $3,000 to the Letcher County Crafts Co-op. Mullins said the festival has spent more than $250,000 with local businesses, including Mine Signs and Decals which makes all the festival’s tshirts and sweat shirts. She said the festival buys locally whenever possible and purchases groceries and supplies locally as well as hiring local contractors for site preparation and carpentry. She added that local hotels and restaurants benefit from the festival and said the other county festivals all sprang from the original Mountain Heritage Festival concept.
“This is a county festival,” said Mullins. “It’s yours and we hope we are doing you proud.”
Narramore also announced the Letcher County Tourism Commission has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Brushy Fork Institute at Berea and has hired 1976 Kentucky Heritage Artist Doug Adams to work with the Commission as a consultant. Adams will host a Mural Painting Class as part of the Whitesburg Streetscape Project. Those wishing to participate or who would like to learn to do mural painting can call 633-2339 and ask for Adams.
In other business:
• the court voted unanimously to appoint Steve Addington of Jenkins to the Letcher County Board of Appeals for Property Valuation.
• the court voted unanimously to approve the first reading of a resolution setting the speed limit at Fishpond Lake at 10 m.p.h. and the second reading of an ordinance setting the speed limit at Lynn Drive at 10 m.p.h.
• The court voted unanimously to dedicate the road starting at Letcher High School Drive on Kentucky Highway 7 at mile point 9.703 to mile point 11.205 to Boatswain’s Mate First Class Clayton Shepherd, United States Navy.