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Fiscal court votes to use coal tax money to boost broadband


Broadband services in the Linefork area will get a $50,000 boost from coal severance tax money — if the project is also approved for a $1.5 million grant the Letcher County Broadband Board is seeking.

The Letcher County Fiscal Court approved a resolution Monday asking that $50,000 of its single-county coal severance tax fund be earmarked for engineering services for a broadband Internet system at Linefork. The money comes from a one-time $110,000 increase in the coal severance money that represents Letcher County’s part of a statewide increase in coal severance receipts.

Magistrates were at first cautious about spending the money when the county is already strapped for cash.

“Is this coal severance tax money only for economic development?” District 2 Magistrate Sherry Sexton asked.

County Treasurer D.J. Frazier said the state prefers that it be used for economic development, but will approve other projects. Judge/ Executive Terry Adams, who sits on the Broadband Board, said coal severance tax money is already committed to other projects in the county, and he believes what is left should be dedicated to economic development.

“I think if coal severance tax money had been used for economic development in the past, we would be more diversified,” he said.

The broadband system will serve residents in the Linefork area, but officials also hope to put a TeleWorks center in the Campbell’s Branch Community Center where residents can train and work online.

The county has about $1.5 million in its singlecounty coal severance fund, and about $1.1 million of that is already committed to make two years of payments on the Letcher County Recreation Center. Another $100,000 is committed for fire departments.

Harry Collins, chairman of the Broadband Board, said the group is seeking a $1.5 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission for construction of the Internet system. The $50,000 would be used as matching money for that.

“If we can show that kind of leveraged funding, it’s going to help us with the grant,” Collins said.

District 5 Magistrate Benny McCall said he was in favor of the broadband project, but questioned what would happen if the Appalachian Regional Commission POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) grant is not approved.

“If the grant falls through, is that $50,000 just gone?” he asked.

Adams assured him that it would be put into a line item in the budget but would not be spent unless it was needed. Collins said the county needs to show the ARC it is willing to invest.

“If we wait till the next fiscal court meeting, that grant is already going to be in Washington,” he said.

The court voted unanimously to set the money aside.

It also passed on the single proposal it received to perform the engineering services to the Broadband Board for it to examine and bring back to the court at its April 15 meeting. Wydelity of Fairfax, Va., was the only company to answer a request for proposals from the county to design the project.

Also at the special called meeting, Bridget Back, a volunteer and wife of Deputy Judge Jason Back, asked the court to approve an application for a grant from the state to buy picnic tables and benches made from recycled tires. The Crumb Rubber grant would total $15,497, including a $3,900 in-kind match from the county, and would include five park benches, six regular picnic tables and two handicapped accessible picnic tables.

Back said the equipment is made from 1.42 tons of recycled tires from within the state of Kentucky.

The tables and benches would be placed at Fishpond Lake. The court approved the request unanimously.

The court also paid bills that had not been submitted when it met for its regular March meeting.

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