At its June meeting, the Letcher County Fiscal Court agreed to help financially strapped volunteer fire departments in the county and received a recommendation to allow the county Broadband Board to enter into negotiations with GigaBeam Broadband and FiSci Technologies to provide Wi-Fi service to the Linefork area of Letcher County. GigaBeam/FiSci is the company that installed the wireless broadband towers that now serve downtown Whitesburg. Judge/Executive Jim Ward also announced that there will be a special meeting to hold the second reading of the Fiscal Year 2018–2019 budget at the District Courtroom in Whitesburg on Thursday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m.
Sandlick Fire Chief Mike Amburgey acted as spokesmen for a delegation of firefighters from around the county and told the court that money for fire departments is so scarce the county is in danger of losing some of the volunteer fire departments that serve citizens throughout the county. Amburgey said that at least one department could close by the end of summer and cited high liability insurance costs, and operational costs as issues that have placed a burden on the fire departments.
Several other firefighters spoke out as well, and Bill Meade of King screek Fire Department said that some firefighters were spending their own money to offset some of the deficits. Meade also pointed out that the ISO (Insurance Service Office) rating is used to measure risk for fire insurance and that with the current near countywide coverage, the areas in Letcher County that are recognized by ISO as being covered have considerably lower insurance rates than areas that fall outside the coverage.
Meade said the entire county should be covered with the coverage areas of the seven departments, but ISO uses a formula based on five highway miles for a coverage area. He said if it could be raised to eight miles, everything would be considered by ISO as being under the protection of a fire department, However, Meade and other firefighters all said that the county’s fire departments consider themselves to be countywide and are willing to answer calls in an area outside their assigned area. Meade asked County Attorney Jamie Hatton to see if he can get the ISO to expand the coverage, but Hatton said that is well beyond the court’s power and will have to be addressed by the state.
Ward said he will speak with the Kentucky Association of Counties, which provides insurance to many Kentucky counties, and see if the fire departments can be covered by an umbrella plan that will lower the cost of insurance for all of them. He also said it will probably be possible for the court to provide some financial assistance to the departments when coal severance tax receipts are released in the new fiscal year. He said the tax receipts will be announced in July and hopefully, the court can provide $5,000 for each department by September, except Whitesburg, which is funded by a city fire tax. The court voted unanimously to approve.
In other business, Harry Smith, Chairman of the Letcher County Broadband Board, told the court that board members had carefully examined the bids they received last week. The court gave the bids to the Broadband Board at a special meeting called for that purpose last Wednesday, June 13. The bids came from a Request for Proposals that was issued in March. Smith said that the only real bid came from GigaBeam/ FiSci and recommended that the court approve the next step, which will allow the board to enter into negotiations about individual price for home service and other factors with the company. Smith said he hopes the board can return to the August meeting with a recommendation to allow the court to enter into an agreement.
Board Member Roland Brown Jr., who works in the field, said he will carefully monitor the negotiations. He suggested that court members attend the next broadband meeting to participate in the discussions but was informed that it would not be legal for the entire court to attend without it being considered a court meeting. However, Second District Magistrate Terry Anderson is a board member and Judge Ward is also on the board as county judge. Brown said the Request for Proposals specified that houses in Linefork should be able to receive the broadband wireless signal no more than 90 days after the construction begins. Smith added that one advantage of wireless is that if a problem with a single user arises, it will either be at the broadcast tower or at the home, since there won’t be miles of cable to trace for a fault.
The court also received an update on progress being made to replace the Perkins Creek Bridge. Judge Ward said the demolition work on the old bridge structure is now complete and the old pillars have been removed. This includes the center pillar, which he said had directed water flow into the bank and accounted for much of the damage done by undermining the bank. Ward said the contractor, Greg Hale LLC, should begin drilling for new pillars this week and the vendor will be contacted and asked to ship the bridge. He said a completion date is not yet available and the contractor is waiting on a power pole to be moved.
The bridge is a Mabey Compact 200 Bridge, and Ward said that after engineers looked at the way the old bridge was undercut, he was told it would add to the structural integrity of the new bridge considerably if 20 feet (10 feet on each side) were added to it. The court voted to make the change and Ward said the original cost was $102,265, and the extra 20 feet added $25,965 to the overall cost. The bridge will be paid for by emergency funds and reimbursed by the state.
The court voted to appoint former Letcher County Treasurer Phillip Hampton to fill a vacancy on the Board of Directors of the Letcher County Health Department. Hampton is Chief Operations Officer at Mountain Comprehensive Health Care and served as Letcher County Treasurer until he retired last year.
The court voted to begin paying Jamie Hall $50 per segment for videotaping county meetings and other functions for broadcast on Channel 98. County Attorney Jamie Hatton said he is looking into ways to get sponsorships to help finance the broadcasts. Ward thanked Rod Back and students from Letcher County Technology Center for building a new boat dock for Fishpond Lake. He also thanked Ron Brunty and James McCauley along with the Letcher County Soil Conservation District for providing funds and aiding in the installation.
Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams asked Ward to have the Veterans Board at Blackey expanded to accommodate more names and Ward agreed. The court voted unanimously to place the name of Master Sergeant Gary Lee Farmer, U.S. Air Force on the Veterans Wall at Gordon.
Bank balances for county agencies as of May 31:
• General Fund: $796,566.11
• Road and Bridge Fund: $650,449.13
• Jail Fund: $140,613.12
• LGEA Fund: $923,626.58
• Senior Citizens Fund: $227.51
• Forestry Fund: $20,111.99
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Depreciation Reserve: $12,814.79
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Debt Service: $255,109.61
Total of all funds : $2,799,518.84