In a surprise move, the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted in a split decision to remove $100,000 in line item funding that had already been allocated to replace or rehabilitate the Boone Fork Senior Citizens Center at Fleming.
The action came as the court’s July meeting had wound down to “member concerns.” Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams then asked about progress on demolition of the county-owned building that had housed the center before it was closed. Since then, seniors who pa- the Boone Fork Center have been transported to the Hemphill Center two miles away.
When Adams asked why no progress has been made in the demolition of the building, Judge/ Executive Jim Ward and District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming both said the cost would be exorbitant, with Fleming saying the county doesn’t have the resources to pay for taking the building down at this time. Adams then suggested giving the money, which was allocated to the Boone Fork Center four years ago in a coal severance tax line item from the state legislature, to the Hemphill Center and combining the two. Fleming, who represents the area served by the Boone Fork Center, asked Adams why he was so eager to spend the money and to interfere with events that do not affect his district. Adams replied that he was “just trying to help the seniors.”
“I don’t think so,” said Fleming.
Adams then called for a motion to combine both centers and to transfer the funds to the Hemphill Center, saying all the court would have to do is change the name and combine the Boone Fork Center with the Hemphill Center. Fleming replied that the legislature had earmarked the funds for the seniors who were served by the Boone Fork Center and added that although he had never opposed sending funding to Adams’s district in the past, he, like Adams has four more years on the court. (Both are unopposed in the fall election.) District One Magistrate Bobby Howard asked if Adams meant to put the entire $100,000 in the Hemphill Center.
“He’s taking our money out and putting it into Hemphill,” said Fleming.
Ward told the magistrates he was not entirely sure if they could transfer the money and Fleming replied that the intent of the state legislature was that the money be spent on the Boone Fork Center, telling the court it was making a mistake in closing the center.
“I think the money was set aside for that (Boone Fork) center,” said District Two Magistrate Terry Adams, adding that while there was some “political turmoil” going on in the court, the center was supposed to be for the people of McRoberts.
“For Fleming and McRoberts,” said Fleming. “ The people in Boone Fork want their own center. It’s a sense of community. It’s an emotional thing, where you meet with your friends. That means more to those people than a meal.”
Keith Adams said the numbers at the two centers are not enough to justify two centers and Fleming asked how many seniors were served at the Blackey Senior Center, in Keith Adams’s district. When Adams replied 22, Fleming said the Boone Fork Center alone had served 25 seniors and asked, “Why not shut Blackey?”
Terry Adams said if you just look at the numbers “we should look at the whole county.” Keith Adams said there are a lot of numbers concerning the Senior Citizens program that are not right, and cautioned that before long, “they will be telling us which ones to close.”
Judge Ward said that the Hemphill Center served 12 to 14 seniors before the Boone Fork seniors had started coming. Fleming reminded Bobby Howard that the center in his district has been under consideration for closing for years, saying, “I stood and fought for you. You won’t do it for me.”
The vote was called and the result was three to two, with one abstention. Ward, Keith Adams, and Third District Magistrate Codell Gibson voted to transfer the funding and combine the centers, which will effectively do away with a separate center for Fleming-Neon and McRoberts. Fleming and Terry Adams voted no and Bobby Howard abstained.
Keith Adams also asked about declaring the old South East Coal Company tipple at Isom as surplus property. Judge Ward said the process is slow and County Attorney Jamie Hatton said the property is currently under lease and it is difficult to declare a revenue-producing property as surplus. Terry Adams said it is a bad idea to declare an industrial park as surplus property, but Keith Adams said the county can do what it wants with the property.
In other business, the county heard a request from Millstone resident Jerry Collins to take further action to regulate aerial spraying on gas line rights of way. Collins said the material sprayed from the helicopters contains Dioxin, a highly toxic chemical that can get into water supplies, and added that two years ago, spraying killed his neighbor’s garden. He said he had called the Federal Aviation Administration and Kentucky State Police, but neither had acted.
Collins told the court a Letcher County Extension agent should be asked to test the material that is sprayed on the rights of way and added that no spraying should be permitted at a height of over 50 feet or if winds exceed five miles per hour. He also revisited the issue of a slit pond in Millstone, which he said was very dangerous to the area, and asked the county to do something about it before it breaks and causes a flood. He added that the property where the pond sits was deeded to the state in 1972 and was mined illegally, costing the county a fortune in severance taxes.
Magistrate Fleming told Collins that the court’s action at a special meeting on July 7 had been intended to require that the gas companies notify the people in the areas to be sprayed so they will know what is coming, and the court had not actually given the companies permission to spray, adding that the gas companies and power companies have been spraying for years. County Attorney Hatton said he is still working on an ordinance to require notification and added that it is a big project.
Collins called the spraying “vehicular homicide” and asked the court, “What if we don’t want to be sprayed? Can we shoot the helicopter down?”
The court also heard a request from Phyllis Barker of Letcher County Cares, the county domestic shelter. Barker asked the court to continue to support the center and said she is afraid that without its support, the center will be forced to close. She added that she and another worker have worked without pay for quite a while, putting their salaries back into the operation of the center.
Barker told the court that as the economy has gotten worse, incidences of domestic violence have increased and the shelter is needed more now than ever before. The shelter currently serves seven women and 11 children, and provides food, shelter, clothing and educational opportunities for the women. She added that the staff continues to write grant proposals but they have had little success.
Magistrate Fleming told Barker that he once had doubts about the center, but after visiting it last year, he has become one of its biggest supporters. Fleming said the court will have to find a way to support the center and said it is extremely important to the county. He also agreed that the many layoffs from coal mining will only increase the stress in many homes.
“I think everybody needs to come and see what you do,” said Fleming. “We have to help take care of these people. We have no other other choice but to try and help them. I think everybody will support you.”
The court also approved a request from Mark Saunier of Comfort & Process Solutions to proceed to perform more intensive energy audits on countyowned buildings. Saunier told the court the initial investigation approved at the April meeting had determined that the court could realize savings of $40,000 and said the more extensive audit will be conducted on county buildings at no charge to the court.
Saunier told the court that after the second audit, the court is free to decline to work with Comfort & Process Solutions Services. But if the court decides to enter into a contract, the company will take its fee from the energy savings the court will realize by rehabilitating old electrical systems. He said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear supports energy efficiency on state and municipal properties as a way of offsetting exorbitant energy rates and added that the power companies will continue to raise rates and the Public Service Commission will continue to allow them to do so.
Fleming told Saunier that if the court does enter into an agreement with his company, it will have to go into debt to purchase new electrical infrastructure. Saunier said his company will monitor the process to make sure the savings offset the added investment. Fleming was unconvinced but joined the rest of the court in voting to allow the second audit to be conducted at no cost to the court.
The court also voted to renew the Air Med medical helicopter service for county employees and first responders at a cost of just over $17,000. Judge Ward told the court it would cost about over $90,000 to extend the basic service to every household in the entire county. The basic service would provide medical helicopter transportation within the county for any Letcher County citizen. For an additional $35, any head of household could extend the service to allow for air ambulance service anywhere in the extensive network that serves an extended area. However, County Treasurer Phillip Hampton told the court that the funds to take care of the entire county are not provided for in the budget and that it could create problems. Hampton suggested including the cost to cover the entire county in next year’s budget when it could be factored in to the entire amount.
The court also passed the authorizing resolution to set the coal severance line item projects in House Bill 235. The top four projects will be funded in both years of the biennium. The Letcher County Recreation Center will receive $600,000 per year for debt service. The County Road Department, Senior Citizens, and Sanitation Department will receive $625,000 each year all together for operations and improvements. The volunteer fire departments in the county will receive $75,000 each year for equipment, supplies, operations and improvements to be divided evenly between the departments, and the Letcher County Domestic Violence Center will receive $50,000 each year for operations and improvements.
In other court business:
• In response to a question from Magistrate Fleming, Judge Ward said the fate of the county animal shelter is in limbo because of the collapse of the coal industry. The funds to build the shelter are already allocated, but the operations were to be paid for by contributions from county coal companies, a number of which are no longer in business.
• The court discussed the possibility of installing a recreational “zip line” at Fishpond Lake Park. County Attorney Hatton said that since the county owns the park, it would eliminate the need for rightof way permission from property owners.
• The court voted unanimously to approve the 2014 Fiscal Court financial statement and the end of year Commissary Report from the Letcher County Jail.
• The court voted unanimously to renew its annual advertisement for the Battle of Leatherwood brochure.
• Tourism Commission Chairman David Narramore reported that the installation of the Fleming Neon ART Project is slightly behind schedule because the site selected for the installation is a bit more difficult to work with than anticipated. Narramore said if anyone has old photos of people they would like to see included in the Fleming-Neon Project, they can drop them off to Doug Adams at the old vocational school.
• Thunder on the Mountain will be held August 9-10 at Jenkins. The Battle of Leatherwood will be held October 24 -26, at the Leatherwood Battlefield Park, and the 100th anniversary celebration of the Stuart Robinson School will be held August 2 on the campus.
Bank balances for county agencies as of July 15:
• General Fund $286,362.04
• Road and Bridge Fund $300,572.01
• Jail Fund $101,799.35
• LGEA Fund $971,998.41
• Senior Citizens Fund $116,938.46
• Forestry Fund $13,873.33
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $419,041.48