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Fiscal court taking look at ‘last house’ road rule

The Letcher Fiscal Court is taking action to determine which county-maintained rural roads can legally be paved all the way to the last house on the route.

Paving public roads only to the point where they lead to the “last house in the hollow” has been a subject of controversy in Letcher County for many years. The issue came up again at the fiscal court’s May meeting when District Two Magistrate Archie Banks called on the court to inventory and map “all county roads referred to as ‘the last house in the holler’ roads” and to have County Attorney Harold Bolling determine the legal status of the roads.

Banks, who has in the past criticized the policy of stopping county paving operations before the last house on a road, introduced the motion after reading an opinion he solicited from the state Department for Local Government. The opinion, written by staff attorney Andrew Hartley, said that no policy exists in Kentucky to prevent paving a county road to the last house.

In his reply to a telephone conversation with Banks, Hartley wrote, “By this ‘second to last house in the holler’ you mean that the county maintains roads (and in some cases, county services) only to the end of the second-to-last property owner on a road, regardless of the distance to the last house. The theory behind this is that the portion of the road going to the last house serves only one owner and therefore does not serve a public purpose. … I am unaware of any law that requires the county to adopt such a blanket approach to maintenance of county roads.”

Hartley’s opinion also includes the following words of caution about the issue: “However, the county’s primary task is to determine for any given road, whether that road serves a public purpose or a private one. More importantly, I think there is a fundamental difference between a road that truly services only one house and a road that services 20 houses and ends at the driveway of the last house. It is important to understand the difference between a ‘county road’ and a ‘public road’. County roads are roads that are formally adopted into the county system. A public road is one traveled by the public. Only ‘county roads’ can be maintained by the county.”

Banks told the court there is also a question as to whether county roads have been eliminated properly from the county road list and said that if they have been eliminated it is doubtful that proper procedures were followed. County Attorney Bolling replied that no roads have been eliminated during his 27 years in office.

“There have been no roads closed by statute during my tenure,” said Bolling. “This is another reason why the court needs to adopt a county road map. We need to develop a county road plan to define county roads. There are people who don’t have access to their property because we don’t have one.”

Bolling said that a road canvas will have to be taken and said the status of each road must be determined case by case. Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he and the county road foreman have been going by book mileage measurements. Banks said there are at least three houses in District Two which are not in the road book. Ward said the road department uses the county’s oldest road records to determine where county roads end and told Banks that nobody was arguing with him.

“You are,” replied Banks.

“You are telling me we haven’t been doing something I know we’re doing,” said Ward.

“Let’s fix it,” said Banks.

Ward then gaveled the discussion closed and said, “Let’s vote.” The court voted unanimously to approve Banks’s motion.

In other business, the court voted unanimously to reject all bids for demolition of the old A&P property, slated for use as a county recreation center. Ward said a questions arose as to whether the bid advertisement for the project properly reflected the scope of work and whether each contractor was given an equal opportunity to inspect the site before submitting a bid.

County Attorney Bolling agreed and said that he had received more phone calls and questions regarding the ad than anything the county has published in his 27 years of service to the court.

“We’ve received no real guidance from the architect,” said Bolling, referring to Summit Engineering of Pikeville. “There is no scope of work or service concerns.”

Bolling said questions also arose concerning equal access to the building for inspection and environmental issues such as asbestos tiles. He said there were problems concerning bonding requirements which need to be clarified as well.

“We need to make sure everybody knows so they can make a knowledgeable bid,” said Bolling. “The questions about surety bonds concern me too.”

Magistrate Banks suggested the court set a time when all the contractors can meet and do a walkthrough and inspect the building and conduct a pre-bid conference at the same time. He said everyone needs to know specifications such as the thickness of foundation concrete and other factors. He said the architect also needs to be present at the walk-through.

Bolling said the court had waited for two months to receive the bid specifications from Summit and did not get them, which forced the county to go ahead with the first call for bids.

The court also voted unanimously to accept a revised interlocal agreement from the Appalachian Industrial Authority which will return Economic Development Director Joe DePriest to fulltime status and allow the Authority to pay part of his salary.

The agreement was revised to remove language giving the Industrial Authority the authority to hire the director, who is a county employee and by law must be hired by the court. The new agreement calls for a joint selection committee of two members from the Industrial Authority and two from the fiscal court to conduct job interviews and forward three candidates to the court for its consideration. Banks and District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson volunteered to sit on the committee.

DePriest presented the court with an update on a six-inch natural gas pipeline which will be installed by Equitable Resources to service the Gateway Industrial Park. He also showed brochures made by the Industrial Authority to promote the park. He said that whenever he makes a presentation about the Gateway Park, he always references the Duffield (Va.) Industrial Park and the success it has had. DePriest said the Duffield facility was started in the 1970’s and now provides jobs to approximately 2,000 employees.

“They stayed on task,” said DePriest. “That’s what we have to do. We won’t stay in this economic slump.”

County Court Clerk Winston Meade presented the court with a check for $5,918, which he said represented the final payment of 2008 excess fees totaling $59,918. In response to a question from District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming about a state law moving delinquent tax collections from county sheriffs to county court clerks, Meade said the changes will require him to hire at least one additional employee and state election requirements will require hiring another.

Meade said the changes were mandated by the state, but that his office will have to find money within its already-stretched budget to pay for them. He said that because of the current economic slump, people aren’t buying new cars or renewing licenses on old ones and that fees are down considerably.

Meade also told the court that a state change in election registration laws could disenfranchise thousands of Letcher County voters if they do not respond to letters, phone calls, or other pleas from the clerk’s office to clarify or update information on their voter registration. He said the physical address of each voter must appear on that person’s voter registration. Meade said some minor changes could be made over the telephone but others would require an office visit. He suggested that voters contact the clerk’s office to determine whether their information is correct before the next election.

“If they don’t update their information, they won’t be able to vote,” said Meade.

In other business:

• Litter Warden Darrell Banks reported to the court on actions taken by the county’s Blighted and Deteriorated Property Commission and a survey the group conducted on dilapidated properties. Banks said the county is inundated with blighted houses that need to be removed, but problems with locating owners complicate efforts. County Attorney Bolling added that many of these properties have no viable address for the owners.

• The court declined to address a state proposal to add an additional $25 to court costs for traffic and criminal violations. Magistrates Fleming and Banks both said they could not in good conscience add any additional fees that will be paid by the families of incarcerated individuals rather than by the individuals.

• The court voted unanimously to amend the 2008-09 budget to accept $855,924 in unanticipated revenue from coal severance taxes.

• The court voted unanimously in favor of a motion made by Magistrate Fleming to ask the City of Jenkins to return $500,000 in coal severance funds to the county which had been designated for a welcome center project at Pound Gap that has since failed. The court will return the money to the state, which will add it to the county’s 2009-10 coal severance tax allocation. The money will then be distributed as follows: $400,000 to the City of Jenkins for water projects and $100,000 to the Fleming-Neon Water Department for sewer renovations.

• Ernestine Flint of Cumberland Mountain Arts and Crafts told the court that June 18 would be the grand opening night for the outdoor drama, “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come.” Flint said the production will be presented every Saturday night through Labor Day.

• Jim Scott of the Committee for a Better McRoberts told the court the McRoberts Veterans Memorial Celebration will be held Memorial Day at 1 p.m. with the Pound, Va., Veterans of Foreign Wars officiating.

• Letcher County Tourism Commission Chairman David Narramore reported on the successful Arts Walk and Redbud Weekend celebration held in Whitesburg two weeks ago. Narramore said the Arts Walk had over 500 visitors, while 80 people participated in the 500 kilometer run. A bicycle ride on Little Shepherd Trail had to be canceled because of tornado warnings. Narramore also said the Tourism Commission had received and acted on requests for funding from a number of county tourist-related organizations, but has not heard from Fleming-Neon or Isom.

• The court voted 4-2 to approve a motion by Magistrate Codell Gibson calling on the county government to end support to anyone wishing to look for ghosts in county buildings. Judge Ward and Wayne Fleming voted against Gibson’s motion. District Four Magistrate Keith Adams, District One Magistrate Bobby Lewis and Banks voted yes. Jim Polly of the Old Jenkins School Committee has reported several times that “ghost hunting” groups have expressed an interest in visiting the old Jenkins School to look for paranormal phenomena.

Bank Balances for County Agencies as of May 15:

• General Fund — $769,244.26

• Road and Bridge Fund — $1,326,135

• Jail Fund — $259,566

• Local Government Economic Assistance Fund — $1,598,073

• Senior Citizens Fund — $115,000

• Forestry Fund — $5,487

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $461,046

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account — $82.00

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