When is a city not a city?
Attorneys and county and state officials are trying to answer that question as it applies to Blackey.
The Letcher Fiscal Court voted Monday night to ask the state to dissolve the City of Blackey and transfer its accumulated tax money to the county so it can repair roads that can’t be fixed because there is no city government, and hasn’t been for years.
The city was revived about 30 years ago after decades of dormancy, sparked by the need for clean water and pushed by longtime community activist Joe Begley and Bill Bates.
The city issued bonds in 1997 and built a water plant, but by 2007, most of the citizens who pushed to jumpstart the city had died, and the city turned the facility over the county. After that most everyone lost interest again.
“Everybody just assumed the city had dissolved, but it didn’t,” State Rep. Angie Hatton told the fiscal court.
Now, she said, the roads need to be repaired, but they are not state roads or county roads, they’re city streets. And since there are no city officials, there is no one to spend more than $130,000 in tax money sitting unused in city accounts.
Hatton’s brother, County Attorney Jamie Hatton, said the court needs to accept responsibility for that money before state officials can dissolve the city.
“Essentially, money is deposited in our (the county) account and the plan is that the money would be earmarked to be spend in the former city of Blackey,” he said.
District 4 Magistrate Cheddy Smith said there is about $107,000 in the city’s bank account, about residents are asking the county to fix the streets, Smith said.
“As it is right now, we can’t do anything for them because it’s illegal,” he said.
The court voted Monday night to accept the plan laid out by the Hattons and Smith. The court will support dissolution of the city and accept the money the city has accumulated to repair the streets there.
The community held two public meetings earlier this year to decide if anyone wanted the governor to appoint a mayor and enough council members to start the city government back up, but citizens voted against it.
Cathy Back, who was the last person to serve as mayor, said she hated to see the city be dissolved. Her father, Bob C. Williams, was one of the group of citizens who got the city restarted in the early 1990s and served on the city council.
“Actually, I’m not for it because my dad and some of the older people worked very hard to get that city established, but you can’t get anybody to be on the board,” she said.
Others who served as mayor during the city’s brief resurrection were Begley, his son Jim Begley, his son-in-law Mike Dixon, and Dixon’s son-in-law Mark Stone.