Whitesburg KY

Fiscal court approves pact

The Letcher Fiscal Court voted this week to enter into an agreement with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife which will allow the county to move forward with the Pioneer Horse Trail project on Pine Mountain.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said the agreement with the state agency still isn’t perfect, but he feels it is best to move on and get to negotiate.

94th District State Representative Leslie Combs attended Monday night’s meeting and told the court she has spoken with Letcher County Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto about the project and wants to get to work on it right away. Combs said that by moving quickly, it will let Fish and Wildlife know the county is serious about the project.

“They’re saying the right things,” said Combs. “Let’s see how they respond.”

After the court voted unanimously to approve the agreement, Ward praised Craft’s Colly painter and horse enthusiast Jimmy McIntosh for proposing the idea for the horse trail and for his work in getting the project approved. McIntosh said it had been three years since he first came up with the idea and began working with others to get the trail established.

Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb thanked the court Monday night for providing money for additional deputies and vehicles, a decision Webb said was partly responsible for his department’s successful participation in breaking up a major drug ring that was bringing OxyContin tablets into the area from Detroit.

Webb told the court that by working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal and state agencies, his department had a large role in breaking up the ring which brought as many as 2,000 of the Letcher, Knott, Perry, and Breathitt counties each month.

Webb said while it is hard for a local police department to deal with an operation of that scope, the cooperation of the court had provided the necessary manpower and equipment needed to help bring the ring down. He said a federal grand jury is expected to meet to consider issuing indictments in the case in two weeks.

Webb told the court a great deal of the crime in Letcher County is drug related, and after looking at autopsy reports it is evident that many deaths are caused by drug overdoses. Webb said he wishes there were a way to charge drug dealers with murder in connection with overdose deaths. He also said he expects many former dealers to start selling narcotics again now that the state is classifying drug dealers as non-violent and returning them to the streets because of prison overcrowding.

“People steal from our citizens to get their pills, not to mention deaths from overdose,” Webb said. “I would like to go back and get these people for murder. It’s getting harder to keep them in jail. They let them out and as soon as they hit the street they start selling drugs again.”

In other business, the court voted unanimously as expected to buy the old A&P store building in Whitesburg to be used as a recreation center for Letcher County residents of all ages.

Ward said the court’s bid of $326,000 was accepted by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the money earned from the sale will stay with the college campus in Whitesburg. He also said the court will hold a public meeting on June 26 to get input from interested parties on how to configure the property and how to best use the site.

Providing a safe, drug-free gathering place for young people is expected to be the chief focus of the center. Ward mentioned laser tag, a bowling alley, a movie theater, a climbing wall, a swimming pool, a walking track and an exercise facility among the possibilities for the building. He said the court will hear suggestions from the public and will take all suggestions into account.

Ward said he has already spoken with the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACO) about securing a loan to purchase and develop the property. He said KACO has expressed support for the project and it should allow the county to structure the loan to suit its needs.

District Two Magistrate Archie Banks said the building may be expanded and have a second floor added, or be demolished in favor of building a new structure.

In other business, Banks told the court he wanted to address rumors concerning the county’s new nuisance ordinance dealing with blighted and deteriorated property.

Banks said he has heard from a number of “shade tree mechanics” who fear they might be cited for working on vehicles in their yards even though the purpose of the ordinance is to remove dangerous buildings.

County Attorney Harold Bolling said the ordinance is designed to address hazardous buildings and property and will not affect people working on cars.

The court also heard a report from Letcher County Economic Development Director Joe DePriest about the possibility of a federal prison locating in Letcher County. DePriest said he wanted to clear up a statement which he said had been incorrectly interpreted at the June meeting of the Jenkins City Council and reported in The Mountain Eagle. DePriest said the federal Bureau of Prison’s website has Letcher County itself listed as a possible site for a new federal prison, and does not mention the City of Jenkins.

DePriest said the site at Gateway Industrial Park has been ruled out because of previous underground mining activity in the area and no site which had such activity will be considered. DePriest cautioned that while the process to get a new prison is a long one and nothing is assured, he believes the county will eventually be chosen as a site for a prison.

DePriest said if the county continues to pursue the prison and work with U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, there is an excellent chance the prison will be located in Letcher County, but a site has yet to be determined.

The court also learned this week that the Letcher County Water and Sewer District will lose its director, Greg Pridemore, to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency.

Pridemore said he hates to leave his job with the district, but the opportunity is too good to pass up. Pridemore’s resignation and steps to fill the vacancy will be discussed when the water and sewer district’s board of directors meets on Thursday. The court went into executive session to discuss Pridemore’s resignation and possible successor, but took no action.

In a related matter, the court also approved a $623,385 operating budget for the water and sewer district for fiscal year 2008-09.

In other business at this week’s meeting:

• Judge Ward told the court he has spoken with officials of Equitable Resources who plan to locate an operation at Gateway Industrial Park in Jenkins. Ward said Equitable will extend natural gas lines throughout the park for use by other industries at no charge to the county.

• The court tabled discussion on a priority list for Coal Severance Tax funds to be presented to the state legislature for the next biennium. Judge Ward said he will call a special meeting for the discussion.

• The court went into executive session to discuss a motion filed in a lawsuit concerning the extension of water lines to the Indian Creek area to comply with a court-ordered settlement between Golden Oak Coal Company and property owners whose wells were damaged by underground mining. Ward said the court will respond to the motion.

• The court heard a dispute over railroad right of way between a number of citizens of the Ice area concerning the possibility of opening the area for mining. However, County Attorney Harold Bolling told the court that law concerning railroad right of way and the reversion of the property to original landowners is extremely complex and has been litigated from “Lexington to Pound, Va.” Bolling said each suit is settled on a case-by-case basis and there is no sweeping body of law to cover the matter.

• The court voted unanimously to name a new county park now under construction at Thornton in honor of Tom and Pat Gish, who own and operate The Mountain Eagle. The park will be located on land the Gishes have leased to the county for $1 per year.

• The court voted unanimously to accept a $40,000 grant for the purchase of recycling equipment.

• The court voted unanimously to allow Ward to negotiate the purchase of a new backhoe and mower for county use along state purchase guidelines.

• The court voted unanimously to approve the bid process and purchase of a van by Letcher County Cares, the county’s domestic violence center.

The court also heard reports from county agencies and departments. In those reports:

• 911 Director Brandon Conley reported taking Global Positioning System (GPS) readings from various sites throughout the county. He also reprogrammed pagers for fire departments and worked on lettering for signs and two new Mack dump trucks.

• Senior Citizens Director Trenda Kincer reported that seniors at the Colson Center had a cookout and were joined by 29th District State Senator Johnny Ray Turner and Ward. The Ermine Center had a Memorial Day service and Colson had a hot dog sale for extracurricular activities. Kincer said more than 10,000 meals were served by centers in May, including 4,333 on site and 5,952 delivered to homes.

• Litter Warden Darrell Banks reported spending four days in court with 15 people who were brought up on charges of littering. Banks checked 19 dumps and found 12 names. He had three dumps cleaned up and eight summonses were written. Property owners were required to clean up around their property at eight homes and Banks answered 16 complaints.

• County Road Foreman John Adams reported that road department workers graveled and graded roads throughout the county and cut weeds and brush as well. Road workers also put up road signs, stabilized creek banks with “basket rock,” installed culverts, hauled garbage to the landfill, and installed televisions and TV mounts at senior citizens centers.

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