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Court will seek bids from firms who haul trash

The Letcher Fiscal Court has agreed in a 5-1 vote to solicit bids from waste management companies that might be interested in taking over the operation of the county’s sanitation department.

The court took the action at its November meeting after Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward reported that the county government is paying $129 for each ton of garbage it now collects.

Ward told the county’s five magistrates they must either fix problems with the sanitation department that will lower the per-ton cost or advertise for bids to franchise the garbage collection. After the failure of two votes to fix the current system and two votes to solicit bids for a franchise, the court finally agreed to advertise for “non-binding bids” and use information gathered during the process to help decide on a final plan of action.

District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson led the move to fix the sanitation department and introduced the District One Magistrate Bobby Lewis and District Four Magistrate Keith Adams. Voting no were Ward, District Two Magistrate Archie Banks and District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming. A motion fails with a tie vote. Fleming then introduced a motion to advertise for bids, but his motion was defeated by the same margin with Fleming, Banks, and Ward voting yes and Lewis, Gibson, and Adams voting no.

Fleming said the sanitation department has lost money during each of the nine years he has been on the court. He said he believes the money could be used for better things.

Banks said that while he favors fixing the county sanitation department’s problems, he thought it would be a good idea to solicit bids to see what larger sanitation companies would pay for the franchise and how they would budget the department. Fleming said the equipment now being used by the county is worn out and will have to be replaced at a cost of at least $500,000. Lewis asked if all the equipment would all have to be purchased at the same time. Banks replied that it would and Fleming agreed.

Lewis said there may be layoffs if the garbage haul is franchised, but Ward said that with labor costs at $73.02 per ton, layoffs are possible anyway. He said if the department is forced to cut workers they will probably be placed into other county jobs. Ward said that if current figures hold, the department could lose more than $200,000 this fiscal year. Ward said garbage collection rates remain high, near 90 percent, but Fleming said the problem isn’t garbage collection, but people who don’t pay their bills. Fleming said that if garbage rates are raised it will be because of those who don’t pay their bills.

“I don’t think it is right to raise rates on people who already pay their bills,” said Fleming.

The entire court agreed that whatever the outcome, garbage collection must remain mandatory – that everyone must have their garbage picked up even if the franchise is awarded to a private firm.

Banks said the entire system needs to be overhauled, including the cost of labor. Ward said the county government also must make certain that everyone who has their garbage collected is being billed.

“The problem isn’t collection,” said Banks. “It’s the system, with that kind of labor cost.”

“I’d rather have us clean our own house up than have someone else,” said Gibson.

Former Letcher County Sanitation Director John Cleveland told court members they face a tough decision either way. Cleveland said that according to his own research, the county sanitation department could lose threequarters of its employees if a franchise is awarded. Cleveland said a franchise has to make a profit, but the county only has to break even.

“If we didn’t lose over $50,000, I’d be happy,” said Fleming. “We’ve lost $6 million over 12 years.”

“I would like to see us bid it and see what we get,” said Ward. “We can also figure out what it will cost us to fix it. I want to look at all the options. We’re not obligated to accept a bid.”

Ward said that while the bid process takes place, the court can gather as much information as possible to try to fix the current system.

Bids for the rights to the county’s garbage franchise are expected to be submitted by two large waste collection firms already doing business in southeastern Kentucky – Waste Management Inc., a publicly held company based in Houston, Texas, and Rumpke Waste Inc., a privately-owned firm based in Cincinnati.

Waste Management already owns the county’s garbage transfer station at Millstone, and has similar transfer stations in Breathitt, Floyd, Harlan, Knott and Leslie counties. Waste Management also currently holds the franchise to collect residential, commercial and industrial garbage in Perry County. Rumpke currently holds the collection franchises in Knott and Leslie counties.

In a related matter, Ward also announced during the November meeting that if anyone in Letcher County has an appliance they need to get rid of they should call the Letcher County Recycling Center, which is located near the mouth of Cowan Creek (632- 2267). Ward said any metal appliance will be picked up at no charge.

Ward also said that furniture and other non-metal items can be picked up as well. He said the department will charge a small fee for people with furniture that needs to be discarded.

County attorney addresses

road, bridge questions

Also at the court’s November meeting, Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling addressed a question which has been brought up several times concerning what constitutes a road on which the county can spend money to repair.

Magistrate Banks asked about a bridge on a road to two houses belonging to Joella and Alben Watts at Democrat. Banks said the Watts family owns both houses on the other side of the bridge.

Bolling told Banks and the other court members that the number of houses served by a road or bridge isn’t the deciding factor. He said the question is whether the road is a public road or not.

“It has to be a public road,” said Bolling. “It has to serve a public purpose.”

Several other court members asked about similar situations in their districts, but Bolling declined to give a specific answer to what he called general questions. He said that public funds cannot be used to maintain private roads and that cannot be expanded.

Water, sewer projects

under consideration

Letcher County Water and Sewer District Director Greg Pridemore gave the court a progress report on water and sewer projects. Pridemore said that although he had hoped the district could hook into water lines with the City of Cumberland by moving a pump station, he had learned that the problem is a bottleneck, created by a smaller section of line well back on the Harlan County side. Pridemore said that Harlan County Judge/Executive Joseph Grieshop has assured him the problem will be taken care of.

Pridemore also told the court that water line extensions at Craft’s Colly and Little Cowan are under consideration by the Kentucky Public Service Commission, and that no further work can be done without the commission’s approval. He said the contractors had agreed to an extension because of the delay, which will take approximately 30 days.

Pridemore said he has sent registered letters to 13 trustees in the Indian Creek community who are holding out on getting their water hooked up. He said that until the matter is completely resolved the Water and Sewer District cannot get trust funds released which will allow it to connect water lines to several hollows on the main line route between Camp Branch and Indian Creek.

The issue concerns an agreement between the Water and Sewer District to provide water to 29 families on Indian Creek as part of an arrangement between an insurance company representing the now-defunct Golden Oak Coal Company and trustees representing 29 families whose wells had been destroyed due to subsidence (under mining). The insurance company placed $1.5 million in a trust to be released when the 29 families had potable water in their homes.

In order to comply with the terms of the agreement, the Water and Sewer District undertook the project to run water lines from Sandlick to Indian Creek, bypassing a number of homes in several hollows along the way because the district only had enough money to run the main line. The trust money will be necessary to add the other homes, which could add almost three hundred customers to Water and Sewer District’s system and will enable it to sell water at a much lower rate.

Pridemore also said he will meet next month with representatives of the Knott County Water District and the Knott County Fiscal Court to discuss the possibility of a water line extension from Carr Creek Lake into Letcher County.

Pridemore added that he recently submitted a plan to the Governor’s Office for Local Development (GOLD) to extend service to Thornton and Cram Creek for $900,000; to Red Star for $400,000; to Smoot Creek for $250,000 and to Payne Gap for $500,000.

In a related matter, the fiscal court voted unanimously to approve Ward’s recommendation to accept the resignation of Water and Sewer District Board Chairman Phillip Back and to appoint Fred Webb of Mayking as Back’s replacement. Ward said Webb is an engineer who will add an extra dimension to the board.

No action taken

on petition

Whitesburg resident Elbert Lee appeared before the court to ask if any action would be taken on petitions he submitted at the court’s October meeting asking for an overturn of the county wide smoking ban. Ward told Lee there had been some discussion of the matter, but that no decision has been reached.

Gas company wants

to drill at Millstone Equitable Gas representative Maurice Royster asked the court to give Equitable permission to drill a gas well in Millstone, near the old landfill site. Ward told Royster the company would have to make certain that the well wouldn’t encroach on any part of the old landfill or the area near it. Ward said the county needs to get the landfill officially closed out and sealed.

After Royster said Equitable had a lease agreement in mind, the question arose on whether the court should go into executive session to discuss the proposal. County Attorney Bolling said the matter did not merit an executive session and told Royster to speak with Ward about the landfill and then submit a proposal to the court for the December meeting.

Members appointed;

new speed limits set

The court also voted unanimously to appoint Seco businessman Jack Looney and Whitesburg dentist David Narramore to the Letcher County Tourism Commission.

In other business:

• The court voted to revise the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Ordinance to keep the county in compliance with state and federal flood control regulations. Magistrate Fleming expressed outrage that some area insurance agencies are charging higher prices for flood insurance now that it is mandatory on bank loans for homes in the flood plain.

• The court approved the second reading of ordinances to set the speed limits at Goose Creek and Race Track Hollow at 15 miles per hour each, and to request a survey of Grays Branch for the purpose of setting a speed limit there.

• The court voted to approve a request for $90,000 in multicounty coal severance tax funds for the Challenger Learning Center at Hazard Community College. Ward said the agreement won’t affect Letcher County’s single county severance funds, and that approximately 4,000 Letcher County students a year visit the center.

• The court voted to allocate $9,500 to purchase a fully restored Civil War cannon to be kept at the Letcher County Veterans Museum.

• The court voted to pay election workers for the recent statewide elections.

• The court learned that the Old Jenkins High School Committee raised over $1,500 from a dinner and silent auction/fundraiser held in October. Committee member Jim Polly told the court the committee is now selling brass Christmas ornament replicas of the old school for $10.00.

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