Facing a drastic shortfall in revenue, the Letcher County Health Department has paid $280,000 to purchase the former Dairy Queen building just across the river.
A deed to the property was filed on August 23.
An unwillingness to raise tax rates, a declining tax base, reduction in federal and state funding, and COVID-19 closures and layoffs have put the Letcher County Health Department deeply in the hole, and it may be unable to continue making payments on the multi-milliondollar health center that opened 12 years ago. It has already been unable to pay its obligations to the Kentucky River District Health Department.
But while the department was and is struggling to pay off its debt, it took all of the money from its certificates of deposit and bought the old Dairy Queen building, planning to rent space in its building on the opposite side of the river and use the parking lot of the old restaurant as parking for renters.
So far, the department hasn’t had much luck in renting. It rents space to the Letcher County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, to a psychologist and most recently to a Lexington law firm.
“ Regardless of what we do, we’re looking at renting more space,” District Health Director Scott Lockard said. “That gives us the parking to do that, or if at some point we need to sell the health department, it will give us a building to remodel.”
The Letcher County Health Center cost $6 million to build, and includes three floors and a basement. The top floor has never been used for anything other than storage, so the department is hoping it can find a tenant for that. It has been lobbying the state to place a regional driver’s license office there, or possibly the Department for Families and Children.
“We are working with the state here, with the Department for Facilities and Support Services to talk about potential uses for the building,” Lockard said. “All that is ongoing right now.”
So far state officials have said there will be a new regional driver’s license office in eastern Kentucky, but they have not said where that office will be.
There were efforts several years ago to move the Department of Public Advocacy and the Department for Mines and Minerals from Hazard to Whitesburg, but both efforts failed.