Whitesburg KY

Court warned of county’s hotel need

“Your Journey Begins in Letcher County” is the title of a series of ads created by the Letcher County Tourism Commission to attract visitors to Letcher County for the many artistic, historical, and cultural attractions in the area. Unfortunately, because of lack of hotel space, the journey will take many tourists to Perry County, Pike County, or Wise County to seek overnight accommodations, even if they are attending events in Letcher County.

Tourism Committee Chairman David Narramore told the Letcher Fiscal Court at its November meeting on Monday night the county is poised to capitalize on the work of tourism advocates, but may be derailed by lack of hotel space and the ongoing problem of roadside trash.

Narramore presented a compilation of 11 short video ads featuring Letcher County tourism sites to the court. He said the county has enough historical sites, events, and other attractions for a sustainable tourism economy, but that most tourists do not spend the night in Letcher County or stay for a longer period of time because of the lack of hotel rooms.

District Two Magistrate Archie Banks complimented the Tourism Commission on the ads, but agreed with Narramore that Letcher County needs more hotel space. Banks said he has spoken with two hoteliers with Letcher County roots who say they have been frustrated in their efforts to build hotels in the county by the lack of available land and the unwillingness of several corporations and individuals who control most of the land that could be used for commercial purposes to sell. Banks said without a place to build, the trend will continue. He also pointed to the ongoing problem with Letcher County residents who throw litter from their cars or put trash in the rivers and streams.

Among the ads produced by the Tourism Committee are spots featuring natural attractions such as Bad Branch Falls and the Little Shepherd Trail along the top of Pine Mountain. Historical themes are represented with some of the homes occupied by the first settlers in Letcher County as well as the county’s coal heritage, Civil War themes, and a number of houses, bridges and other structures featuring cut stone crafted by Italian stonemasons who came to eastern Kentucky in the early part of the last century.

Letcher County artists are also featured in the videos along with music and crafts. One video focuses on musical traditions and others show festivals in the county. Narramore said that some of the events bring in several thousand people who would gladly stay close by if there was space to accommodate them. He said the videos will be placed on television as well as on the Letcher County Tourism website, where he hopes they will be shared on social networking sites such as Facebook and go “viral.” That is, to be passed onto other social networks and get on Internet video sites like You- Tube where millions of Internet users can see them.

Narramore also pointed to a documentary on a Letcher County family currently under production for the Discovery Channel as another national production that should create a good deal of interest in the area.

In other business, the court heard a report from Committee Chairman Jim Scott on work being done by the Abandoned and Deteriorated Property Committee to help remove abandoned and dilapidated houses from the county. Scott reported having received 60 replies to letters sent to property owners to the effect that the properties could be removed and said he is waiting for several more, although he said about six or seven letters have generated no response.

Scott said that one building, the old Tom Biggs Boarding House in McRoberts, is a real hazard. He said he has a letter from the property owners saying it can be demolished. He said he has another for a house on Chopin Branch in McRoberts with a porch that is about to fall into the road. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming told Scott he knew of the house and said he thought it should be the first to go.

Fleming and other court members praised the work of Scott and the committee. Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he knows Scott has put a lot of work into the project. Scott said the next step for the houses with signed letters is to take them down. He said EQT had taken down five houses on Johns Fork, and Ward said as soon as some liability issues are ironed out, EQT and several coal companies will donate equipment to begin to remove the rest.

In other action, the court voted unanimously to pay for bonding the five constables in the county. District Three Constable Roland Craft approached the court and said he has not received any response from an earlier request he had made about help with vehicle expenses and said the cost of fuel and the added burden of paying the bond and vehicle expenses far surpasses the salary paid by the county. Magistrate Fleming moved that the court assume the cost of bonding the magistrates and add it to the pool of other bonded officials.

The court also discussed other arrangements for helping with expenses, but Ward said if the county changes the way expenses are paid it will require additional recordkeeping by the constables. Fleming said that some of the constables work hard, but that others do very little. He held Craft and District Five Constable Roger “Hunkie” Hall as examples of constables who go above and beyond the call, saying that Hall “works his butt off .”

Magistrate Banks said that unless expenses are itemized, any additional payments will have to be made to every constable and not just the constables who spend a good deal of time on their job. Banks praised Craft and said he functions much like a city police officer for Mayking.

Craft also mentioned ongoing problems with emergency radios and pagers. He said he hasn’t seen any improvement in either, and Fleming agreed. Fleming told the court that in the recent accidental death of Gary Bentley of Payne Gap, first responders did not arrive at the scene for nearly half an hour, and when an ambulance crew did arrive they said they had only been alerted 10 minutes before. Fleming said that 20 minutes for responders to get their page was much too long and that eventually it will cost someone their life. Ward said he would contact Jim Reevis, who has charge of the county’s 911 service, and have him obtain a readout for the day Bentley died to see if he can find a reason for the delay.

In other business:

• The court voted unanimously to pass a resolution to redo the lease arrangement on Mack trucks for county use.

• The court voted unanimously to allow the county to enter into a bonding pool with the Kentucky Association of Counties for bonding the county recreation center which Judge Ward said will lower interest rates by almost one percent.

• The court voted to pass Budget Amendment 8 to accept $100,000 in unbudgeted funds from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for the Whitesburg pumper/tanker fire truck and $153,638.95 in coal severance tax funds.

• County Treasurer Phillip Hampton told the court its coal severance allotment is down by $209,000 from the past quarter and said if the pattern holds, the county will receive $618,000 less than last year on top of other reductions made by the state legislature.

Bank Balances for county agencies as of November 12:

• General Fund $316,110.56

• Road and Bridge Fund $676,075.23

• Jail Fund $122,420.18

• LGEA Fund $1,240,721.93

• Senior Citizens Fund $169,083.12

• Forestry Fund $10,012.28

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $514,859.38

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account $47.32

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