Whitesburg KY

Court will help finance vo-tech, hospital projects

The Letcher Fiscal Court has agreed to give $1 million in coal severance tax funds to the Letcher County school system to help build a new vocational and technical school and $100,000 in severance funds to the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital for a new addition and other renovations.

The money for the new vo-tech center, which would be located on the campus of Letcher County Central High School, will come from multi-county severance tax receipts. The idea to use multi-county funds for the project was originally proposed in 2006 by then-Letcher County Judge/Executive Carroll A. Smith and was later made possible by the cooperation of fiscal courts in Knott, Harlan, Pike, and Perry County and state government.

Letcher County Schools Superintendent Anna Craft thanked the current Letcher Fiscal Court and the other courts involved and said the new career center will be important in creating targeted job training for new industries and a proposed new federal penitentiary.

Craft, speaking at the fiscal court’s June meeting on Monday, added that getting the multi-county grant was the result of cooperation among neighboring counties and said that by working together, eastern Kentucky can accomplish much more than by working as single units.

“This shows what eastern Kentucky can do when we work together,” said Craft.

ARH renovation

Dena C. Sparkman, community chief executive officer at Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital, told the court the $10.9 million project would increase the number of private rooms from 17 to 44. cently approved construction of a 15,000-square-foot addition for clean surgical, post-partum, obstetrics and nursery. Renovations to the third floor are also part of the construction project.

The upper level of the new addition, which will make the hospital look “T” shaped, will connect to the entrance of the laboratory on the first floor of the hospital. Sparkman said 16 private rooms for surgical patients, delivery and post operation will be located on the first floor, making it more convenient for patients.

The design includes four labor and delivery suites, which will have hardwood floors and a more home-like feel. There currently are two delivery rooms. A 12-bed nursery will have a step for siblings to be able to view their new family member easier. A dedicated C-section suite, two family waiting rooms and a patient education center for new families will be added as well.

Sparkman said the lower level of the addition will be kept vacant until the hospital needs to expand again. She said that after the addition is built the third floor will also be renovated, converting all of the hospital’s three- and four-bed wards into private medical/surgical rooms. Sparkman said a few semi-private rooms will remain on the second floor for patients who want a roommate.

Sparkman said increase in private rooms and more space in the Intensive Care Unit are key factors in the expansion project. She said demand for private rooms recently increased and patients the hospital wants to attract will simply go somewhere else if private rooms aren’t available.

She said the project will add two isolation rooms for infectious cases and will add 10 new jobs to the 360 already employed at ARH. Sparkman added that the average salary is $52,000 per year and said Whitesburg ARH provides $8.5 million in indigent care alone.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming voiced several criticisms about ARH, but said he supported funding the renovation and expansion with severance tax. Fleming questioned the $8.5 million figure and said that even though ARH does provide care for the poor, it is very aggressive in its collection activities. Fleming said his disappointment went beyond ARH and was aimed throughout the health care industry.

Fleming, whose district includes Jenkins, said he is also disappointed that ARH no longer provides emergency room services at the old Jenkins Community Hospital, which ARH recently acquired from Wellmont. Fleming said a county employee had a heart attack next to the Jenkins facility recently and would have died if a pharmacist hadn’t given aspirin to the employee before he was taken to the emergency room at Whitesburg.

Water woes

The court also voted unanimously Monday to assume a loan payment of $47,509 for the cashstrapped Letcher County Water and Sewer District. The payment will service loans made by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency for the Blackey Water Plant and water line extensions to Isom/Jeremiah and Sandlick.

The county was forced to acquire the Blackey Water Plant several years ago after the City of Blackey became unable to manage it any longer. Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward told magistrates the county had little choice but to pay the loan payments since the Water and Sewer District is an agency of the court and its biggest problem is lack of a customer base to bring in enough money to provide a stable operating budget.

The court also voted unanimously to approve the first reading of a budget amendment to allow $125,350 left over from construction of the Sandlick water line extension project to be placed in the county budget.

Deputy Court Clerk Sue Dunn, who also serves as secretary to the fiscal court, remarked that water lines are in place where she lives at Dry Fork but that she has not seen or heard any efforts by the Water and Sewer District to recruit potential customers. The Water and Sewer District was formed in 1997 to serve areas of the county outside of the city limits of Whitesburg, Jenkins, Fleming-Neon, and Blackey with water and sewer service. Once the crown jewel of county government, the District now has no executive director and no operations director, and is operating on a skeleton staff that is afforded neither the time nor resources to recruit new customers.

District Two Magistrate Archie Banks said that in an effort to make hook-ups more affordable to homes along the new water lines, the District has decided to allow a payment plan for the $350 hook-up fee. Banks said that initially, the payment plan was only limited to families below poverty level, but has been expanded to allow any potential water customer to hook up on an installment plan. Banks said payments can be set as low as $20 a month.

Letcher Fire Chief Gary Rogers told the court the fire department had tried to buy large quantities of water for filling water tanks and swimming pools but were told the District doesn’t have the water to spare. Rogers said the one time the fire department was allowed to purchase water it caused an entire community to have brown water in its system.

No questions

In other business, the court voted unanimously to approve the annual operating budgets submitted by the special districts in the county — the Letcher County Health Department, the Letcher County Library Board, the Letcher County Soil Conservation District, and the Letcher County Extension Service.

Although representatives from each district were told to appear at the meeting to answer questions about the budgets, none were posed by court members — apparently because the court had learned it had no authority over the budgets.

Judge Ward announced that the court will schedule a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of a natural gas terminal to serve the Gateway Industrial Park at Jenkins. The terminal is being installed by natural gas producer EQT at no charge to the county and will service businesses in the park. The terminal may also be expanded to serve natural gas customers throughout the county.

“We need to put in gas lines along with water lines,” Magistrate Banks remarked. “Sewer lines too.”

In other business brought before the court:

• At the request of Magistrate Fleming, the court voted unanimously to petition the Kentucky Public Service Commission to transfer the Payne Gap/Kona water project to the City of Jenkins. Fleming said The Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands had suggested the change to speed up the engineering process and to get badly needed public water service to the area.

• The court contracted with Robert Kiser of Letcher County to conduct a “Level I Habitat Assessment” on the Pioneer Horse Trail on Pine Mountain at the request of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

• The court approved a plan to split office space on the first floor of the old Letcher County Health Department building between Letcher County Sherriff Danny Webb and Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II.

• The court voted to request that the Department of Local Government return a $500,000 appropriation originally made for a welcome center on US 23 at Jenkins and allow $100,000 to go to the City of Fleming- Neon for sewer projects and $370,545 to Jenkins for sewer projects.

• The court voted unanimously to trade two old road graders toward the purchase of a new Cat road grader and to purchase a new mower, all at state contract price.

• The court voted unanimously to approve the second reading of a budget amendment allowing for unbudgeted receipts for severance taxes to be placed into the county’s 2008-09 operating budget.

Letcher County Treasurer Phillip Hampton said when he first saw the figures, $582,906 in gas and oil production and $273,019 in coal production, he thought it was a mistake. Hampton said this was the first time in his long term as treasurer that gas and oil receipts have been higher than coal receipts.

• The court accepted a bid of $27,128 from Legacy Playground Equipment for playground equipment for the Hemphill Park. The court also heard a request from representatives of the Hemphill Community Center for assistance with the purchase of a central heating system for the center.

• The court approved a resolution authorizing a request from the Harlan County Fiscal Court to assign multi-county coal severance receipts to Harlan County for funding of the Challenger Center, a dropout prevention and youth service program.

• The court authorized the Letcher Fire and Rescue Department to use its own funds to construct a fire house at the Campbell’s Branch Community Center, which can be repaid from later severance tax receipts.

• The court voted to extend $2,000 to the Kingscreek Fire Department for a loan payment against future coal severance receipts. Bill Meade, representing the fire department, praised the Letcher County Parks Department and its director, Derek Barto, for a job well done on the Kingscreek Park.

Bank balances in county accounts as of June 15 were reported as follows:

General Fund, $978,744; Road and Bridge Fund, $1,291,991; Jail Fund, $224,113; LGEA Fund, $1,945,195; Senior Citizens Fund, $122,607; Forestry Fund, $5,554; Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Account, $463,998; Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Fund, $82; AML Fund, $0.00.

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