Whitesburg KY

Garbage rates may need to be raised, officials are told

County Treasurer Phillip Hampton told the Letcher County Fiscal Court that despite all the reorganization and cost savings from switching to mini-packer trucks, shifting personnel, and other measures, it may be necessary to raise garbage rates in the near future.

At the court’s November meeting, Hampton said even though costs are down in Sanitation, the department is still operating in the red and is a drag on the county’s General Fund, where it is housed. Hampton told the court that until tax collections from the bills recently sent out by Sheriff Danny Webb begin to come in, the General Fund will be considerably lower than in the past. During the Treasurer’s Report, Hampton told the fiscal court this is the lowest the fund has been in a while.

In response to a question from Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming, Hampton said the Sanitation Department has to remain in the General Fund instead of being given its own line item in the budget but that Sanitation expenditures are kept in a separate account within the General Fund. Hampton lauded the court for the cost-cutting measures it has implemented, but said it may not be enough to keep Sanitation out of the red. He said as of the Monday night meeting, Sanitation had lost approximately $152,000. However, Fleming said according to the spreadsheet in his packet, it was around $187,000 in the red. Hampton said if rates are eventually raised, they will probably be no more than $2 to $2.50 per month.

Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he still hopes to avoid raising garbage rates and cautioned the court to wait until the bills for this quarter’s garbage collection fees start coming in. Ward added that fuel costs had actually gone down even during the time when they were at their highest due to using the smaller and more fuel-efficient mini-packers that allow county workers to position the larger packer trucks strategically to collect garbage without logging so many miles picking up trash. The larger trucks now only travel to the tipping station and stay in one place most of the day where the mini-packers can bring the compacted trash to them for transfer. Ward said it is just one of several effective cost-saving measures the court has implemented in Sanitation.

“We’re down from $10,000 to $6,000 for fuel,” said Ward. “And fuel is up. We’ve kept a better eye on things. We’re collecting at a 90-93 percent rate and we’re down four or five people (shifted to other jobs) since we got the new trucks. When I took office one and a half years ago it looked like we would have to raise garbage rates to $18 per month (a $5 increase over current rates). I would like to see how much expenditures have dropped since we got the new equipment.”

Hampton said a rate increase is not inevitable but the important thing is to keep a close eye on the General Fund until the end of the fiscal year and to start now rather than waiting until May. Ward asked that whatever expenditures can be legally transferred to the LEGA (Local Government Economic Assistance Fund) including Sanitation, should be done so until tax collections start to come in. Hampton added that there have been other unplanned expenses coming out of the General Fund including bills for a previous audit of the Sheriff’s Department.

Judge Ward emphasized that in any event, costs are down in Sanitation and will go down even further when a new haul schedule is implemented in January to take advantage of the greater mobility and lower fuel costs of the mini-packer trucks. Ward also said that County Attorney Harold Bolling is aggressively prosecuting people with delinquent garbage bills. Ward said several people have come in and paid their entire bill after receiving notices of court action by Bolling. A greater degree of adoption of blue bag recycling by county residents could also forestall a possible increase in garbage rates.

“All we need to do (for Sanitation) is to get it to break even,” said Hampton. “Even now, the losses are the lowest they have ever been.”

“It’s also an investment in cleaning up the county,” added Second District Magistrate Archie Banks.

In other business, the court received bids for proposals on the initial phase of the new county recreation center from three bidders. Richardson Associates of Whitesburg, Summit Engineering of Pikeville, and Kenar Architects of Frankfort all submitted proposals. Judge Ward distributed the packets to each magistrate and asked that they study each one and be prepared to vote in a special meeting in December.

The court also heard a report from Senior Citizens Director Trenda Kincer about water problems at the Oven Fork Senior Citizens Center. Kincer said that seniors who normally eat and gather at the Oven Fork Center have been going to the Kingscreek Center and thanked the Kingscreek Volunteer Fire Department for its help. Kincer emphatically stated that the Oven Fork Center will not close and that as soon as the Division of Water allows it to re-open, it will do so. She said both of the center’s wells had run dry during drought conditions and until the water is deemed safe by the Kentucky Division of Water the Senior Citizens program will continue with its present schedule, but that the center will remain in operation and will reopen as soon as possible. Judge Ward added that the safety and well being of the seniors who use the Oven Fork Center is the most important thing and the center will be open when the water is safe.

Kincer said the Letcher County Senior Citizens program served 10,400 meals in centers and home delivery last month and it is constantly getting calls for more. She told the court that it is concentrating on those with the greatest need but will be able to accommodate everyone. Kincer also said that as soon as locking cabinets for the widescreen televisions and Nintendo Wii video sets purchased by the court are built, the program will be able to use the Wiis at the centers for recreation and exercise. Jude Ward said one $1,200 TV set was stolen from the Boone Fork Center. Several magistrates and audience members speculated on how low a person would have to be to steal from a senior citizens center.

In other fiscal court business for November:

• Gary Rogers of Letcher Fire and Rescue reported that an architect has been consulted and bids will be ready to go out by Friday for two buildings at Campbell’s Branch, one for a fire department substation and the other for the community center. Rogers also discussed new rules that will require any emergency worker on federally funded roads to wear reflective tear-away safety vests. Judge Ward said he would speak to Paul Miles and see if there are 911 funds to help with the purchase of vests.

• Benny Hamilton of the Kentucky River Area Development District told the court that everything is in place for the Pioneer Horse Trail public hearing as soon as an assessment from the Kentucky Historical Preservation Society is complete.

• Joyce Wayne of Cumberland Mountain Arts and Crafts reported that the Little Shepherd Theater office is now open and selling books and crafts. Wayne said the Little Shepherd Theater will hold auditions in January and the play will open on June 18, 2009.

• Doris Adams and Ked Sanders of the Letcher County Tourism Commission reported that an art show of statuary will be held at the tourism center December 6- 13. The Tree of Hope will also be at the center and names of needy children may be picked up and gifts dropped off there. Sanders said that regardless of a heavy rain, a hike to the Killing Rock on the Red Fox Trail went as scheduled and another hike will be scheduled in the spring.

• Jim Polly of the Old Jenkins High School Committee told the court that the fund-raising dinner and silent auction went well and raised about $2,200. Polly also said a representative of Pepsi-Cola had approached him and expressed an interest in sponsoring the renovation of a classroom at the old school. Polly said he hopes other business concerns will follow suit. Magistrate Banks was enthusiastic and said this is the best way to approach renovating the old school.

• Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto told the court that Kentucky Power will hook up lights at the Thornton Park and that a formal naming ceremony to name the park in honor of Tom and Pat Gish, who donated the land, will be held as soon as the Gishes can attend.

• The court voted to accept $43,610 from the state for rural and secondary roads. Judge Ward said this is about $20,000 less than was previously allocated.

• The court voted unanimously to add the new drug testing policy to the county personnel policy.

• The court voted to place an ad for bids for fruit baskets for county employees.

• The court voted to add $500,000 to the budget from a loan from the Kentucky Association of Counties for initial work in the county recreation center.

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