The Letcher County Fiscal Court was presented with a request this week regarding $300,000 in coal severance tax funding that was allocated for the construction of an animal shelter several years ago.
The project was put on hold last year after it was determined that the plans to fund operation of the shelter were no longer viable. Originally, several coal and gas companies had pledged to provide support for the management and operation of the animal shelter. However the majority of the companies are no longer doing business in Letcher County, which leaves the county without a shelter.
At the court’s January meeting Monday, the court heard a request from the Kentucky River Animal Shelter for funding a new four- county center that could be located in Letcher or Perry County.
Tammy Noble of the Kentucky River Animal Shelter told the court that the lease for the current shelter at the industrial park in Hazard has expired and the shelter is operating with the possibility of being evicted at any time. Noble said that a new shelter will cost $780,000, and the organization currently has between $400,000 and $450,000. She added that the other two counties that share the center at present have no available funding to contribute and asked the fiscal court for the $300,000 in coal severance tax funds to allow for the construction of a permanent shelter.
Noble told the court that although sites in Perry County have been looked at, it would also be acceptable if the shelter is located in Letcher County. However, she said the original idea of a no-kill shelter for Letcher County is not practical for the four-county region and that some animals are too sick or vicious to keep in a shelter. Noble told the court that the rate of euthanasia for animals at the Kentucky River Shelter has dropped from 94 percent in 2011 to nine percent in 2013, with 2014 statistics unavailable as yet. She added that the reduction was mostly due to animal rights groups in the four counties and praised the efforts of the Letcher County group for their work toward that goal. A sizable group of Letcher County animal support activists attended the meeting.
Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming told Noble he had a number of questions about her request, including why Letcher County should be required to give the entire $300,000 when Knott and Breathitt counties would contribute nothing. He said that Letcher County already pays $ 1,700 per month to participate in the shelter.
“If they’re not going to pay anything, I think the money should go toward spay and neuter here,” said Fleming.
Judge/ Executive Jim Ward told Fleming that the funding was earmarked for construction and had to be used for that purpose. Noble added that Knott County doesn’t have the funds right now, but said that while the previous Breathitt County Judge/ Executive had refused requests for funding, the county has a new administration and she hopes the county will be willing to contribute. Fleming then asked that the court be given 30 days to discuss the matter and made a motion to that effect. Judge Ward said he would like to contact other judge/executives to see if the matter can be worked out in an equitable manner, and suggested that he call a special meeting after he speaks to the other three judge/executives involved. Ward said they will all be together at the upcoming Kentucky River Area Development District meeting.
Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams then moved to go ahead and allocate the $300,000 for the shelter. Adams’s motion received a favorable response from the audience, but no vote had been taken on Fleming’s motion. Ward said he would like to know what the other fiscal courts are going to do before Letcher County makes a decision, but added that there is a time constraint on using the funding while it is available.
“We’re under the gun,” said Ward.
The court voted five to one in favor of Fleming’s motion with only Keith Adams voting no. Noble asked that the court meet on February 2, but Ward told her the Letcher County court personnel will undergo training on that day and said as soon as a time that works for everyone is chosen, he will make the announcement.
Court Members Want ‘Roundabout’
The court also voted unanimously to draft a letter of support to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in favor of the roundabout option for the entryway into Whitesburg.
Letcher County Tourism Chairman David Narramore told the court that the roundabout was generally favored throughout the county and that 94th District State Representative Leslie Combs, who represents part of Letcher County in the Kentucky General Assembly, told him that if additional funds are required for the roundabout, she will see to it that they are made available.
Ward added that the project had been planned as a roundabout all along and the option of a fourway stop was just recently added. Narramore said the four-way stop would have a more negative impact on the Letcher County Veterans Museum. Museum representative Buddy Grubb said it would not only cost it parking spaces, but it would also put the road very close to the museum entrance. The letter of support has no legislative authority and only serves as a means of communicating the court’s wishes.
The final decision will be made by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Magistrates, Ward Vote to Support Constables
Magistrate Fleming also told the court that although he had initiated a move several years ago to allow the court to pay mileage expenses for county constables, he feels that at this time, with the county’s financial situation being what it is, it would be a good idea to cease paying mileage to constables.
Fleming said that with the possibility of layoffs and cutbacks on programs looming, he feels like the court cannot afford to continue the practice.
Terry Adams seconded the motion and the vote was four to two against it, with Fleming and Adams voting yes, and Judge Ward, Keith Adams, Third District Magistrate Woody Holbrook, and First District Magistrate Bobby Howard voting no.
2nd Firm Offers ‘Energy Audit’
Matt Callahan, with the Cincinnati-based energy efficiency company Perfection Group, with Kentucky offices in Lexington and Louisville, addressed the court and offered an energy audit to the county at no cost. Callahan told the court that if the county decides to enter into an agreement with Perfection Group, it can designate which buildings it wants to target in an effort to reduce energy costs. He also said that if the court signs a contract with Perfection Group and the savings fall short of the amount specified in the contract, Perfection Group will write the court a check for the difference. As with other energy auditing companies, the court would enter into a loan arrangement, in this instance with the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACO), and Callahan said the county’s first payment on the loan will not be due until one year after changes in lighting or other energy using systems have been implemented.
Magistrate Fleming said he is pleased to see competition for Comfort & Process Solutions, which conducted an energy audit for the county last year. Both Fleming and Ward mentioned the HVAC system at the courthouse as being ready for an upgrade and Fleming added that while he is not sold on the idea and does not like the idea of the county taking on further debt at this time, he is willing to see what Perfection Group can come up with. Second District Magistrate Terry Adams agreed and the court voted unanimously to allow a second energy audit.
Letcher County Court Clerk Winston Meade presented the court with a check for just over $9,000 in excess fees from 2014. Meade said the original estimate for excess fees had been about $3,000, but Letcher County residents have increased licensing their vehicles in the county and other taxes are up as well, giving a total excess fees of $ 12,800. The remainder of the fees will be presented to the court after an audit is conducted.
The court also accepted annual bids for 2015. Childers Oil, with the lone bid, won the bid for petroleum products, and Action Auto, also the lone bidder, was awarded the bid for culverts. The court accepted bids from Mountain Aggregate and Bluegrass Materials for crushed limestone, depending on which is closer to the project where the stone is needed. Mountain Enterprise was awarded the bid for asphalt and will supply the county from its locations at Jenkins, Shelbiana, and Hazard.
The bid for doing electrical work on county buildings, except the courthouse and rec center, both of which have special systems, went to Greg Hale, LLC, and Brooks Electric, both of which came in with bids of $32.50 per hour. Hatton Heating and Cooling entered the lone bid for refrigeration, and the bid for plumbing services went to Greg Hale LLC at $32.50 per hour. The bid for HVAC service went to Hatton Heating and Cooling as well, with a bid of $35 per hour. Breeding Electric will serve as the secondary provider in the event Hatton is unavailable. Jeff Potter received the bid for carpentry with a bid of $14 per hour and the Wells Group was awarded the bid to provide concrete to the county. All material bids are to be weighed against the state contract for materials.
In other court business:
• Magistrate Keith Adams asked that Letcher County Economic Development Director Joe De- Priest be asked to appear at the next court meeting to give the court a report on the possible location of a federal prison in Letcher County.
• Berma Matthews of the Blackey Community Center reported that the center was rented out 50 times last year, which she said helps to pay the bills. She also announced that a prom dress giveaway will be held at the center on March 28. Cooking classes will also be held in February. The classes will be sponsored by the Letcher County Extension Office.
• Bill Meade of the Kingscreek Fire Department announced that a meeting between several county fire departments and gas companies with facilities in Letcher County will be held at the Kingscreek Community Center on February 6. The purpose of the meeting is to determine which gas lines belong to which gas company and to provide a mechanism to contact gas companies so lines can be shut off if they are broken and leaking gas or on fire. Magistrate Fleming asked Meade to contact the Fleming Neon Fire Department to request that it attends the meeting.
• The court voted unanimously to name Thomas Hollow Road off Little Cowan Road Number 2035 in honor of Captain John L. Thomas, U.S. Army, and to name Rod Run Drive in McRoberts in honor of Sergeant Bill Holbrook, Jr., U.S. Army, Gulf War.
Bank Balances for County Agencies as of January 14, 2015:
• General Fund $222,395.56
• Road and Bridge Fund $449,652.32
• Jail Fund $83,939.51
• LGEA Fund $446,660.65
• Senior Citizens Fund $359,679.02
• Forestry Fund $17,026.43
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $434,938.81
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service $84,281.47