Whitesburg KY

Damage could have been worse, Neon council told

While trees felled by high winds resulted in a loss of power to the City of Fleming-Neon’s main water well, the city was able to make it through last Friday’s heavy storms without suffering much other damage.

Storms which had Letcher County under a rare tornado warning for much of May 8 also caused a tree to fall on a fence at the Fleming-Neon Water Plant, resulting in about $800 worth of damage, the town’s council learned at its regular monthly meeting on Monday.

Water Department Superintendent Carlos Phillips told the council that the fence and a gate that was also damaged have been repaired and the plant is again secured. Phillips also said water is being pumped from an auxiliary well until power is restored to the main well. He said recent rains have filled both wells and the auxiliary well has so much water the overflow comes out in waves that whitecap.

Phillips also told the council that if the electricity to the water plant hadn’t been restored when it was on Friday evening, he would have been forced to use an older and unreliable generator to power the plant. Phillips said he is trying to get a grant through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to buy a new generator in the event of an emergency.

In a related matter, Phillips told the council that a sewage lift station near Neon Junction is outdated and badly needs replaced. He said the technology is outdated and that keeping the station running costs more in man hours that it would to replace it. He added that the station causes the sewage plant to run at low capacity at times, then surges to up to 350 gallons per minute and throws the plant out of line. Phillips said he is looking for grant money to replace the lift station.

Phillips also said that city’s water losses are holding steady at about 30 percent.

Council member Cheryl Furby said she has been asked by representatives of the not-for-profit Headwaters Inc. (the Head of 3 Rivers Project) to participate in a study to monitor fecal matter in the North Fork of the Kentucky River and it tributaries. Furby said testing will be conducted soon above and below the sewer plant. She said it would be to the city’s advantage to be able to identify a problem and fix it before the state Division of Water gets involved.

Phillips said the sewer plant does a good job generally of removing effluents, but added that the sheer number of straight pipes in the county would skew most results when checking for fecal waste in area streams.

“We probably have 500 straight pipes above the sewer plant,” said Phillips.

Mayor Susan Polis told the council that news coverage of the recent disastrous flooding in Pike County, Ky., and its neighbor to the east, Mingo County, W.Va., as well as tornadoes in central Kentucky has prompted her to look into the city’s own disaster planning.

Polis said that although people in rural areas like Letcher County have a tradition of helping family members and friends in the event of a disaster, it would be very difficult to manage an event on the scale of last weekend’s flooding. She said she is not aware of any designated emergency shelters and wonders if there is any location that would handle a large number of people who cannot stay in their homes.

Polis said she will check with Letcher County Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Miles to find out the requirements for designating shelters and try to find space for one within the city.

Polis also expressed frustration with the slow pace of the Haymond Water Project. Phillips told the council that only two easements remain unsigned, but believes they will be taken care of very soon.

Marshall Bevins, a member of the Fleming-Neon Water Board, said he is also frustrated with the pace and has expressed his concern to Ken Taylor, the project engineer for Kenvirons, the Lexington contractor that submitted the bid for the project. Bevins said he told Taylor it was taking much too long to get city water to Haymond. Polis agreed, saying the slow pace would be considered if Kenvirons bids on another city project.

“If we do anything else,” said Polis, “I would have second thoughts.”

Polis also introduced Police Officer Mike Cagle to the council. Cagle was recently hired as the city’s second police officer. She told the council that Cagle is doing a good job and has already made a difference in the city since he was hired. Police Chief Henry Day had said earlier that Cagle is a good officer and that he is very happy to have him in the department. Day said the city has applied for federal stimulus money to hire two additional officers.

In other business, the council conducted the first reading of the budget for Fiscal Year 2009-10. City Clerk Janice Banks suggested the city pursue an option to pay police department salaries out of Local Government Economic Assistance funds instead of the general fund and use the general fund for less specific expenditures as they occur. Banks said the LGEA fund can be used for police expenses as well as roads. She said money would still be available for road repairs. The projected budget includes expenditures of $282,473.

Banks also suggested the city convert an existing bank account to a miscellaneous fund and allow the money to draw interest until it is needed. Banks suggested adding $100,000 to the account which was used to disperse overpayment funds from Charter Communications and change the account name to the Fleming-Neon Maintenance Account. The council approved the first reading and voted in favor of Banks’s suggestion. The council also voted to change the city’s main account from Town of Fleming-Neon to City of Fleming- Neon.

Marshall Bevins noted that the water department will conduct its first reading of next year’s budget at a meeting next week and said the proposed budget includes no raises for workers. Bevins referred to the water department’s current financial situation as “teeter totter” right now, adding that high gas prices and excessive overtime had caused the department to operate in the red for much of last year.

“It’s getting better,” said Bevins. “Gas killed us last year. We also installed the 401K (savings plan for workers) and had a lot of overtime due to the drought.”

Council member Lucky Cantrell brought up the possibility of having all-terrain vehicle trails in the city as part of the county’s efforts to promote trail riding to tourists. Bevins said that at present the four entry points to old strip mines where most ATV riders ride are in Goose Creek, Number Two Hollow, Haymond Hill, and at Barlow. Cantrell said permission letters from landowners would negate the city’s liability and allow the project to be done in a relatively short time.

Mayor Polis was enthusiastic about the ATV trail possibilities said she envisions businesses springing up around them. Polis suggested the Fleming-Neon trails become part of the county trail system. Cantrell will spearhead the project.

Polis also read a letter from the Letcher County Library Board rejecting the city’s offer of the old Hazen Building for use as a new library site. The board said the building would be too expensive to restore under guidelines for historical properties.

Council member Tom Haynes said the Hazen Building is quickly becoming a liability to the city. The Hazen family donated the structure to the city several years ago. Haynes said the roof is now leaking badly and ruining the upper floor. He said it would have to be replaced if the building is to remain structurally sound. He said he has spoken with Seth Long, director of the not-for-profit Homes Inc., about the possibility of getting the seasonal workers to do some work on restoring the roof.

In other council business:

• Council member Furby said a house in Hogg Hollow is about to slide off its foundation and down the hill. Mayor Polis said the Blighted and Deteriorated Committee will try to get the house listed so it can be taken down before it damages anyone else’s property.

• The council voted unanimously to accept a Municipal Aid Agreement from the state which provides $9,267 to pave city streets listed on the agreement

• Council member Cantrell reported that the Fleming-Neon Chapter of the American Legion has donated $200 for fireworks for the city’s Independence Day celebration.

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