Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward announced this week that Letcher County government offices and the county courthouse will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, December 25 and 26, to celebrate Christmas. Garbage pick-up for those days will be suspended until the next week. Sanitation customers who regularly have their trash picked up on Monday will have a pick-up on Saturday, December 30. Regular Tuesday pick-up will resume on Tuesday, January 2, 2018.
In other business, the court learned that the Letcher County Broadband Board did not receive a $1.5 million Community Connect Grant it applied for earlier in the year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Broadband Board had hoped to use the grant to install fiber optic cable for high speed internet service in the Linefork area. The court voted to support the application for the grant in February of 2017. It was intended for areas with no broadband connectivity of cable television service.
Harry Smith, Chairman of the Broadband Board, told the court that no municipalities, city or county governments, received the USDA grants, and that they went entirely to commercial enterprises or established systems. The recipients included North Central Communications of Lafayette, Tenn.; Ben Lowman Communications of Mc- Minnville, Tenn.; Cherokee Telephone Company of Calera, Okla.; IGo Technology of Grundy, Va.; Valliant Telephone Company of Valliant, Okla.; Hood Canal Telephone Company of Union, Wash.; Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, Cloquet Minn.; and Scott County Telephone Cooperative of Gate City, Va.
Smith said the board is not discouraged and will actively pursue other funding opportunities. In response to a question from Third District Magistrate Woody Holbrook, he said that geography and terrain work against installing Wi-Fi transmitters on communications towers because the mountains and leaves on trees tend to retard Wi-Fi signals. Smith added that work is ongoing to develop a Wi-Fi signal that will penetrate leaves.
The court voted unanimously to accept the 2018 budget from the Letcher County Court Clerk and Sheriff ’s Offices. The 2018 budget for the County Court Clerk’s Office features receipts of $5,660,600 against expenditures of $ 5,657,846.67, leaving an anticipated surplus of $2,753.33. The maximum expenditure for deputies and assistants was set at $521,446.67. The budget for the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Office calls for receipts of $716,050 against expenditures of $716,040, leaving an anticipated balance of $10. The Sheriff ’s budget sets the maximum amount of expenditures for deputies and assistants at $433,600. The court voted unanimously to allocate the customary advance of $110,000 against tax receipts for operational expenses, to carry the sheriff ’s office until taxes start coming in. Kentucky law mandates that sheriff ’s offices have a zero bank balance at the end of the year.
Judge Ward announced that under the new rate set for the Kentucky state employees retirement system, the county’s portion of hazardous duty retirement will go from 31.55 percent to 47.86 percent, and from 19.18 percent to 28.05 percent for regular duty retirement. Ward estimates it will cost the county an additional $152,800 next year and added that he has no idea where the additional funds will come from.
Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming said the entire retirement system situation is the result of bad management on the state level that goes back for decades. According to an article from the August 18 Louisville Courier Journal by Tom Loftus, reprinted in the August 18 edition USA Today, Governor Matt Bevin estimates that Kentucky is $64 billion short of what it needs to pay retirement benefits over the next 30 years. However, some who have been following the pension crisis closely say that figure is far too high and that the most recent official figure for unfunded liabilities of Kentucky’s eight pension plans is bad, but only $33 billion. Jason Bailey, Executive Director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, agreed, saying that liabilities are very high but are more “in the $30-some billion range.”
“It is important to be clear- eyed and rational about a plan to pay down our serious unfunded liabilities. Inflating numbers and using overstated crisis rhetoric doesn’t help with that, and can easily lead us down a path that does more harm than good,” Bailey said.
Fleming compared the situation to Congress’ mismanagement of Social Security, which holds $2.6 trillion of the national debt since Congress began borrowing from Social Security in the 1980s. According to The Concord Coalition, founded in 1992, a nonpartisan organization that advocates putting the national debt on a sustainable course and protecting future generations, the current U.S. debt stands at $20,492,949,732,212. That does not include an anticipated deficit of $1.5 trillion that will be the result of the current GOP budget that is expected to be approved by the Senate this week.
The court also voted unanimously to accept annual bids in preparation for reading at its January meeting, and to dedicate Cromona Drive in Cromona for Sergeant Paul Michael Whitaker, United States Army, Iraq. They also voted to designate Bridge #25289 on the new portion of US 119 North as the Sergeant Jim T. Whitaker Jr. Memorial Bridge. Whitaker received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
Bank balances for county agencies as of November 30
• General Fund $190,035.13
• Road and Bridge Fund $995,176.93
• Jail Fund $99,710.36
• LGEA Fund $370,435.89
• Senior Citizens Fund $227.23
• Forestry Fund $17,607.28
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Depreciation Reserve $72,446.69
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Debt Service $358,515.85