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Fiscal court may focus its TV lens on county schools

The Letcher County Fiscal Court this week directed County Attorney Jamie Hatton to determine if there are any legal issues that would prevent the county-owned public access Channel 98 from covering meetings of the Letcher County Board of Education.

The court took the action during its November meeting Monday night after Eolia resident Lindsey Boggs asked court members to use their influence to help keep the Arlie Boggs and Beckham Bates elementary schools open.

“The school board says the fiscal court has no power over the schools,” said Boggs, who added that whenever the school board needs extra money it always approaches the court for help. Boggs also asked the court to provide an attendance incentive for county schools with the prize being a month’s paid membership in the new Letcher County Recreation Center.

Boggs told the court she believes such an incentive would not only promote better attendance but would also help to increase membership at the rec center. She also went into detail about what she said are the undesirable qualities of school consolidation, saying it increases drop-outs, causes poor attendance, and causes grades and test scores to drop.

Boggs also said that if the Arlie Boggs school is closed, it would cause Letcher County children on the Cumberland River side of the mountain to have to ride school buses across Pine Mountain to attend schools in Whitesburg. She said the change would dramatically increase the time students spend on the bus on a dangerous road for school buses (US 119).

District Twp Magistrate Terry Adams told Boggs he doesn’t think the people in Letcher County know all that goes on with the school board and suggested that Channel 98 be sent to board meetings. At that point, County Attorney Jamie Hatton told the court he would like time to examine the legal ramifications of such a move since Channel 98 is an organ of county government rather than an independent news organization. However, Channel 98 producer Rick Hall later said the government channel has all the legal rights and protections that any other news gathering organization has, including access to public meetings.

“I don’t think the school board wants people to know what’s going on,” said Adams .

Hall did point out that another conflict exists because of the date of the county school board meetings. He said that when Channel 98 initially requested space on Intermountain Cable, which serves Jenkins, Fleming Neon, Haymond, Hemphill, and other areas in the eastern part of Letcher County, the arrangement was that in order to be granted access to Intermountain’s public access channels, Channel 98 would have to agree to cover meetings of the Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education, which meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 6 p.m. The Letcher County Board of Education also meets on the fourth Monday. Hall suggested hiring a part time alternate to cover one of the meetings.

“We are committed to that meeting (the Jenkins school board) and it’s the same night,” said Hall.

Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward said that while he supports the idea of using a membership in the recreation center as an attendance incentive, the plan would have to include every school in Letcher County including the Jenkins Independent Schools. He said would have to meet with the center staff to determine how to work it out.

In other business, Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation CEO Mike Caudill spoke to the court about an earlier proposal he had made to use bicycle trails as a means of increasing tourism in the county. Caudill said progress has been made with the newly-paved road around Fishpond Lake and the Little Shepherd Trail on Pine Mountain being designated as dual use roads. He asked the court to help with paying for and erecting signs on both.

Caudill said he has spoken to the city councils in Jenkins and Whitesburg about expanding bicycle trails in each city. He said he has also spoken with representatives of Premier Elkhorn Coal Company (TECO) about the possibility of extending trails from Jenkins into Pike County by crossing TECO right of way.

Caudill asked the court to approve a resolution to appropriate up to $1,200 to develop a bicycle trail around Gateway Industrial Park in Jenkins, which he said would be approximately six miles in length. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming moved that the funds be allotted and the court voted unanimously to support his motion.

The court also voted to approve two change orders for the Letcher County Recreation Center. The orders are needed to build a retaining wall to keep water out of the gymnasium and for aluminum doors for the children’s play area. The cost for both is $10,200. Judge Ward said the court has the money on hand from funds left over from the center. The vote was five to one with Terry Adams casting the lone no vote.

Magistrate Wayne Fleming told the court that although he had voted against the center because of concerns about the county government being able to pay for its operations, the building is now finished and he believes the entire court should support it. Fleming said he took his grandchildren to the center over the weekend and they really enjoyed it.

“I was opposed to it,” said Fleming. “But we have to make the best of it and work together to make sure it pays for itself. I hope it benefits everyone in the county.”

Ward thanked Fleming for his support and said the center now has 257 members and has sold 34 sponsorship signs on the walking track for $1,000 each per year. He said 29 private parties have already taken place there and the center has had good crowds every day since it officially opened last Saturday. Fleming also asked that the court be presented with quarterly reports on the center’s financial progress .

The court voted unanimously to approve a resolution with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to transfer maintenance responsibilities and ownership of liabilities for a new bridge across Craft’s Colly Creek at Copperhead Road (CR1146) at its intersection with KY 2034.

The bridge was the subject of a contentious property rights situation which kept county water lines from being extended to 20 families who live on Copperhead Road. Ownership of the new bridge will now revert to the county. Judge Ward said this also settles all water line right of way issues on Copperhead Road.

Dr. David Narramore of the Letcher County Tourism Commission presented the court with programs from the Civil War re-enactment of the Battle of Leatherwood and showed the magistrates ads the commission had placed. Narramore said the Tourism Commission will meet in Whitesburg City Hall on November 29 at 5 p.m. to seek input from the public on a grant aimed at generating “three dimensional plans” for the streets of Whitesburg. He said the commission hopes to obtain the community’s input to develop a professional architectural plan for the city.

Narramore also reminded the court that Artwalk will be held on Friday, December 9 from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. He said the Pellegrini Gallery will participate with newly acquired art featuring eight chromolithographs of famous Americans from the early 1900s, American land and seascapes from the 1800s, and Christmas decorations. The commission is asking the court for $2,500 for matching funds for a grant to help plan the interior and display areas of the Heritage Center (a local history museum) at Monument Park as well.

Narramore added that the commission still needs to hear from the American Chestnut Festival, Cowan Creek Music School, Letcher County Mudrunners, and Riverside Days in order to complete its plans for 2012. He also said the commission plans to work with other groups to sponsor a MotoCross event in 2012.

In other court business:

• The court also voted unanimously to approve a resolution for a lease to refinance two Mack trucks. Judge Ward said the new arrangement will allow for a better rate.

• The court voted to look into the possibility of changing Lillie Cornett Woods Road back to its original name of Whitaker Branch. Merlene Day presented the court with a petition she said was signed by every resident on the road and asked that the name change be made. However, Judge Ward said there is another Whitaker Road in the county and the court will have to look further into the matter.

• The court voted to adopt the Uncle Pearl Cemetery Road into the county road inventory.

The court voted to name the following bridges and roads in honor of Letcher County veterans:

• The first bridge going up Race Track Hollow in Isom was dedicated in memory of Sergeant Geder Martin, U.S. Army, Vietnam.

• Garner Road in Isom was dedicated in memory of Private Watson Adams, U.S. Army World War II.

• Saluted Creek in Colson was dedicated to Corporals Dennis Seals and Emmett J. Reed Jr. U.S. Army.

• The bridge at the Junction of Highway 3401 on the left to Route 588 at mile point 9.005 was named for Sergeant Alfred Gibson.

• Craft’s Colly Road from mile point 0.760 to mile point 1.760 for Tech 5 Remious Day Sr. and Specialist 4 Remious Day Jr.

• The bridge at Highway 1103 at the mouth of Big Branch, 1.5 miles up Big Branch was named in memory of Private First Class Stevie Ray Gibson, U.S. Army, Vietnam.

Bank Balances for county agencies as of November 16, 2011

• General Fund — $564,477.60

• Road and Bridge Fund — $677,420.76

• Jail Fund — $259,706.44

• LGEA Fund — $1,079,665.21

• Senior Citizens fund — $125,942.63

• Forestry fund — $10,928.17

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $549,320.86

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account — $28.38

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