The Letcher County Fiscal Court turned its attention to economic development at its April meeting.
Late in Monday night’s meeting, District Two Magistrate Terry Adams urged the court to make economic development a regular topic. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming suggested holding an extra meeting each month that would be dedicated to economic development. Fleming also said the court needs to meet with people who actually work in economic development regularly as well as looking for sources to invest in economic opportunities in the county.
The court agreed to begin holding an additional meeting each month strictly for economic development issues. Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward will work with the court to set a regular meeting day and time.
Angelia Smith-Hall, who works for the Kentucky River Area Development District as a community resources planner, told the court that the SOAR (Save Our Appalachian Region) meeting that had to be rescheduled because of bad weather will be held on May 11 at the Eastern Kentucky Expo Center and that the East Kentucky Leadership Conference will be held at the Expo Center April 23-24. Fifth District U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, one of the architects of the SOAR program, will be the keynote speaker at the East Kentucky Leadership Conference.
Fleming said that while he supports the planning and work that SOAR is doing, he said that group is mostly concentrating on projects that won’t take place for several years while the people of Letcher County need jobs now. He told the court that its planning needs to be conducted to address more immediate problems such as re-employing people who are out of work and creating jobs through economic development.
The issue of economic development also came up as Letcher County Tourism Chairman David Narramore delivered the monthly tourism report and Wayne Fleming asked if there was any progress on obtaining funding to build a “zip line” attraction for Letcher County. The City of Pikeville unveiled its own zip line during last week’s Hillbilly Days festival and Fleming said that he and his wife had recently taken his grandchildren to Harlan and found long lines of people who were waiting for the attraction.
Narramore told the court it would probably need to contact the Governor’s Office for Local Development to move the project forward because Letcher County does not have sufficient revenue for the Tourism Commission to fund any project of that scale. Narramore reminded the court that both Pike and Harlan counties have a restaurant tax that is designated for tourism development while Letcher County doesn’t. The issue of a restaurant tax for tourism or helping to clean up the large amount of fast food trash that litters the highways has come up several times in the past but has been voted down each time.
Narramore stated that Pike County has a tourism budget of $1.5 million and Harlan County’s budget is $500,000, while Letcher County’s tourism budget, which comes largely from the dwindling coal severance tax revenues, is $25,000. Letcher County has a hotel/motel tax that is designated for tourism, but the entire county only has two motels and a few bed and breakfast inns that are subject to the tax. Both Fleming and Narramore agreed that the lack of lodging possibilities in the county also creates other problems. Fleming said that while Letcher County has a good number of events that will bring large numbers of people into the county, the lack of hotel rooms pushes the visitors to surrounding counties that then get the lion’s share of the revenue from Letcher County attractions.
Fleming said it is frustrating to watch Letcher County fall further behind surrounding counties in tourism development and added that Fishpond Lake would be a good site to locate a zip line. He also said the recreational vehicle park at Fishpond needs to be completed so the county will have places for visitors to camp, and added that the county needs to develop permanent tourism attractions. Fleming also pointed to the western end of the county as being almost totally underused in tourism planning and said it is one of the most beautiful parts of the entire county.
Judge Ward said he will talk to county officials as well as tourism officials in Harlan County and try to get some ideas for Letcher County. Fleming said his great worry is that Letcher County will get frozen out as other counties develop attractions. Narramore added that every year that goes by makes it that much more difficult for Letcher County to catch up with surrounding counties in tourism development.
Narramore also reported that the Neon Art Project is now complete and said that he has heard a number of complimentary statements about it. He said the sculpture rotates so it has a seasonal quality and celebrates the history of the city, including the iconic Fleming-Neon Pirate logo that sits at the top of the artwork. Narramore added that that artist Doug Adams has now moved on to the Isom project. He also asked the court to reappoint the following Tourism Commission members whose terms have expired, Donna Boggs, Richard Brown, Debbie Hogg, Creda Isaacs, David Narramore, and Maxine Quillen. The court also confirmed two new appointments, Colin Fultz and Kyle Smith, for at-large seats.
In other business, the court also heard about an incidence of extreme animal cruelty in McRoberts concerning two horses that were neglected and almost starved to death by their owner. Fred Johnson of McRoberts told the court that he had reported the problem to the Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement agencies and had been passed off from one agency to the other until he got in touch with Letcher County Sheriff ’s Deputy LaShawna Frazier.
Frazier, who owns several horses, said that she had gone to the horses’ owner in her official capacity and every time she had asked the owner to do something for the horses what she had asked had been done, but added that the neglect continued in other ways so she had to keep going back and making more demands. Johnson said the last he had heard the horses had been moved to Pike County.
Frazier said that state laws concerning animal cruelty are very vague as to specifics and that makes it hard to address the issue, but Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton said his office has prosecuted a number of animal cruelty cases and that the same vague language gives him a good deal of leeway in prosecuting animal cruelty cases and seeing that the conditions are corrected.
Magistrate Fleming suggested that the court ask Hatton to explore ways to address the animal cruelty problem. Frazier added that one problem is what to do with large animals if they do seize them from negligent owners. Hatton agreed and said that there are adequate laws in place but that the county is short on manpower to enforce them. Fleming said that the second time anyone is cited for animal cruelty that person should face a stiff fine, adding that he does not want to just sit back and let it happen. Hatton said that he can seek all sorts of things in the criminal justice system, but it will be up to law enforcement to file charges before he can bring any action.
Deputy Frazier also presented the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Office amended budget for 2014. The department finished the year with a surplus of $65, with disbursements of $740,765 against receipts of $740,830.
Carol Ison and Nell Fields, representing the Cowan Community Center, told the court that the center has received a grant funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission and routed through the Kentucky Department of Local Government that will allow it to host a two-day planning summit that will be inducted by community development specialist Dr. Vaughn Grisham and his wife, Sandy Grisham, of Bakersfield, N.C. The grant will be administered through the Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College. The summit will be held at the Letcher County Extension Office on Wednesday and Thursday, May 13 and 14. Ison invited anyone interested in community development throughout the county to join the event. The court voted to help fund the summit in the amount of $500 to help with food and other supplies.
In other court business:
• The court went into executive session to discus personnel matters. When the members emerged, Judge Ward moved to terminate employee Roy Short’s employment with the county. The vote was unanimous to support the motion. Short was employed at the recycling center and also cut grass.
• Judge Ward asked the court to appoint a budget committee to help with the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2015-2016. In addition to County Treasurer Phillip Hampton and Finance Officer Doris Jean Frazier, Ward, Third District Magistrate Woody Holbrook and Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams will serve.
• Ward also asked the court to appoint a committee to address several issues in the sanitation department including Dumpster rental fees and collections. District One Magistrate Bobby Howard, Judge Ward and Second District Magistrate Terry Adams will serve, along with sanitation department employees Courtney Baker and Christine Bolling.
• Judge Ward, along with Magistrates Wayne Fleming and Bobby Howard, Executive Secretary Hettie Adams and Judge Pro-tem Eddie Meade will all serve on a committee to revise the county administrative code.
• Constable Chris Caudill, who also serves as water maintenance director in the City of Whitesburg, addressed the court about the growing litter problem in the county. Caudill said that in the course of his patrols as well as trail riding, he has seen a tremendous increase in illegal dumps and litter in general. He said the county will never make any progress in developing tourism if it isn’t cleaned up and kept clean. Ward suggested the court allocate up to $1,000 for cameras to target illegal dumping and the court voted unanimously to in favor. Ward said they can target known dumpsites first, but that the cameras will be moved around to cover other sites as well.
• The court voted to declare April as Bicycle Safety Awareness Month.
• The court also voted to declare a number of items as surplus property to be sold at a sealed bit auction. Ward said the items will be advertised in county newspapers and the court will accept sealed bids with a base bid set on each item.
• The court voted unanimously to name the first bridge going up Doty Creek in memory of Corporal Coman Caudill and Tech Four Lonzo Caudill, brothers who served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Bank Balances for County Agencies as of April 8:
• General Fund $347.230.20
• Road and Bridge Fund $602,016.75
• Jail Fund $124,338.98
• LGEA Fund $1,580,712.20
• Senior Citizens Fund $274,155.93
• Forestry Fund $221,042.13
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $292,589.21
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service $64,042.05