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Flood damage top talk at court meeting

After a week of dealing with flooding and damage caused by high water, the Letcher County Fiscal Court discussed the problems it faces to make county roads and bridges safe and functional again.

Judge/ Executive Jim Ward praised the long hours and hard work he said was put in by county workers who were already understaffed, and the willingness of magistrates to pitch in.

Ward said he is uncertain what kind of funding the county will qualify for to reimburse losses from repairing roads, culverts, bridges, and other infrastructure damaged by the floods, but said the losses are substantial.

County Treasurer Doris Jean Frazier said the court should not expect federal funding to arrive too soon, saying that the last Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to come to Letcher County took four years and innumerable pages of paperwork to finally be released

Ward also gave out his personal mobile phone number at the meeting for people who are in need from the flooding but are unable to get through to county offices. Following that, he also gave out Judge Pro-Tem Eddie Meade’s number and the five magistrates followed suit. The numbers, all in the 606-area code, are:

Judge Ward, 634-2573; Judge Pro-Tem Eddie Meade, 634- 9353; First District Magistrate Bobby Howard, 634-2142; Second District Magistrate Terry Adams, 634-9269; Third District Magistrate Woodie Holbrook, 634-9211; Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams, 821-7282; and Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming, 821-6288.

Magistrate Fleming said that most if not all the roads in Letcher County need work and that in some places, it is no longer possible to dodge deep pot holes that can damage vehicles or cause wrecks. Keith Adams said that in his district, one section of road on SR 588 in Kingdom Come is no longer safe to drive and that only half of the road is passable. He said one man could lose part of his property due to washout from the floods.

Ward also announced that a meeting of the Letcher/ Harlan County Water Commission will be held on Thursday, February 22, at 6 p.m. at the Cumberland River Fire Department. Ward said the meeting will be very important for the people of the Cumberland River District who hope to see a water treatment plant built in their area to provide them water as well as for the citizens of Benham and Lynch in Harlan County.

The cross-county commission is a new approach that was suggested at the October meeting of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District after several plans had failed. The district had looked at purchasing water from the Wise County, Virginia Water District and the City of Cumberland only to see the plans fall through. Roger Recktenwald, Director of Research and Planning for the Kentucky Association of Counties, told the board that according to Chapter 74 of the Kentucky Community Water Statute, any two public utilities can come together and form a cross-city or cross-county entity to create a water district. He said the new district must contain at least two public utilities.

At that meeting, Ward said he had spoken with Judge/Executive Dan Mosely of Harlan County and that two of the three water districts in the upper part of Harlan County, Benham and Lynch, had already conducted first readings of an ordinance to allow for the creation of a special water district in cooperation with Letcher County. At that time, the City of Cumberland was expected to join, but later declined. The Letcher County Board approved the motion to move forward and begin the process.

The statute gives water districts in different cities or counties the ability to jointly acquire and construct sources to supply water when the governing body adopts a resolution to acquire and jointly operate sources to supply water. After the judge/executive has made an order creating the water commission, commissioners can be appointed to operate the district. Judge Ward urged interested parties, particularly residents of the Cumberland River area of Letcher County, to attend.

First District Magistrate Bobby Howard told Ward he has heard rumors that the Department of Local Government may take back almost $1 million in coal severance funds that were allocated for extending water lines to the Cumberland River area years ago.

Ward said he doesn’t think that will happen, but if it does, the money will be re-allocated for the same purpose. Howard asked the court to pass a resolution designating the funds specifically for the purpose they were intended, and the court voted unanimously to approve his request.

During the discussion, Ward told the court that the total amount of coal severance funds the county received in the last quarterly dispersal was only around $40,000.

Later in the meeting, County Treasurer Frazier said the total mineral severance tax (including natural gas) was about $200,000. Ward said that when coal production and gas production were at their peak, the county could expect nearly $1 million each quarter.

Ward also told the court that the final site of the treatment plant has not been decided, and the commission is looking at several sites. He said that Letcher County is the lead entity and will have a good deal of influence on the final decision. Fifth District Magistrate Fleming said the people at Cumberland River will be among the last in the county to be served and that they truly deserve to finally have treated water.

Ward said the lack of a source has always been the main problem keeping lines from being run. He said the money allocated for running lines couldn’t be legally spent until a source was secured, but he hopes that as soon as the source is finalized, the DLG will allow line construction to begin. Fleming added that it will make it more likely that AML will provide funding as well.

In other business, the court voted to accept the Unmined Minerals Settlement from the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department.

Deputy Sheriff LaShawna Frazier told the court that only about half of the projected tax of around $300,000 for unmined minerals had been collected. Ward said that declines in coal production had slashed the amount and County Attorney Jamie Hatton said his office will help the Sheriff ’s Office look into the matter.

The court also voted to make deputy and bailiff positions designated hazardous. In the past, hazardous duty retirement has been paid by the court and reimbursed by the sheriff ’s department, but in the future, the sheriff’s department will pay for it. County Treasurer Frazier said she will work with the sheriff’s office to incorporate it. Deputy Frazier said the revised payment has already been added to the department’s budget.

The court voted to name the bridge on US 119 between Lewis Creek and Collier’s Creek for Sergeant Roger W. Collier, who served in the U.S. Army and is also a retired Kentucky State Trooper.

Bank Balances for County

Agencies as of January 31

• General Fund: $579,092.47

• Road and Bridge Fund: $811,397.96

• Jail Fund: $69,516.03

• LGEA Fund: $364,212,92

• Senior Citizens Fund: $227.32

• Forestry Fund: $18,141.79

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Depreciation Reserve: $2,568.99

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Debt Service: $254,900.04

Total of all funds : $2,100,057.52

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