Whitesburg KY

Jenkins council rejects higher property tax rate

Taxpayers in Jenkins will not see a raise in property taxes to accompany a tax increase made by the Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education at a special meeting held on August 31. Although outgoing Mayor Charles Dixon, who did not seek re-election, recommended a four percent raise in taxes on real property, the council voted unanimously on a motion made by Rebecca Terrill-Amburgey to keep taxes at the current rate of 44.99 cents per $100 of real property.

Terrill-Amburgey told the council that although she agrees with Dixon in principle, in light of the stagnant economy, increases in city fees, and the recent tax increase by the school board, she does not feel this is the right time to address financial shortfalls, although she said they would undoubtedly have to be addressed in the future.

“We absolutely will have to raise taxes,” said Terrill- Amburgey. “But with (increases in) sanitation and water bills, and the school board has raised taxes, I feel this hurts us. We can’t collect our taxes because we have such a high school tax. We can’t avoid a tax raise eventually, but at this time, I say no. I move we keep it at the same rate.”

The council voted unanimously in favor of Terrill- Amburgey’s motion. Councilman Terry Braddock also spoke out against the tax hike and Carol Anne Litts asked Dixon if the current city budget (FY 2010-2011) was balanced. Dixon replied that it was, but said added expenses often came up during the year, too. Litts also asked about city stickers, but Dixon said the city would not be able to eliminate them if the tax hike wasn’t implemented.

Dixon told the council the decision was its to make because he would be out if office in three months. He said that while cities in Virginia have a number of ways to raise revenue, cities in Kentucky have limited options. Dixon said he feared the city would get into the situation of being unable to continue to provide services at their present level, and said that declining revenues would inevitably lead to some cutbacks.

“My concern is that we will get to the point of not being able to provide basic services,” said Dixon. “The people who complain about taxes complain the loudest about services. If we are going to be able to provide basic services in the city, we will have to come up with more money.”

Dixon commended the Jenkins Police Department for its efforts to ensure that everyone subject to occupational taxes and other city fees paid them, and for aggressively pursuing enforcement of city sticker ordinances, but added that despite the department’s efforts, a number of people managed to get out of paying their fair share. He said ordinances should be enforced or be done away with. Dixon said he understands this isn’t popular, but he had worked to make Jenkins a better place in his four years in office.

In other business, Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward praised the council and Mayor Dixon for working together to move Jenkins forward for the past four years.

“It’s amazing what gets done when people work together,” said Ward.

Ward told the council the ongoing work to rehabilitate city water lines will help the city and said the Payne Gap Water Project is ready to begin as soon as project plans are approved, with $632,000 coal severance tax funds in place. The funds were allocated by the Letcher County Fiscal Court so work could begin until funding from Abandoned Mine Lands becomes available in 2011. Ward also discussed ATV trails in the county and the trailhead at Fishpond Lake. He said people who have ridden the approximately 25 miles of trails already in place have been enthusiastic about the experience. He said the trail has been surveyed using GPS technology to expedite rescues, and said he is looking into the possibility of tying it into trails in Harlan County and Knott County.

“People who have used it are really enjoying it,” said Ward. “It’s all under the canopy of the trees. We will clear out several other places too. I think it will bring tourists to Jenkins and to Letcher County.”

Ward added that the $100,000 budget for the RV Park at Fishpond Lake is not enough to complete all the facilities, but said the first phase of the park will allow RVs to park there. He said it will require additional funds to provide sewer or electrical service. Ward added that the walls are going up at the county recreation center in Whitesburg, and said it should be open for operations by next fall.

Ward also told the council he had recently spoken with representatives of Ferus, the Canadian nitrogen extraction company locating in the Gateway Industrial Park, and said it will start taking applications sometime this fall. In response to a question from Terrill- Amburgey, Ward said it is still unclear whether Ferus will hold a job fair or hire through the Employment Services Department in Whitesburg. He said that he favors holding a job fair, but added the decision will be announced when it is made. Ward said equipment for the plant will start arriving in January and the initial batch of hiring will provide 30-40 new jobs.

Ward said he and several magistrates had also met with a gas industry service company from Oklahoma looking at Gateway Industrial Park as a possible site. Ward said at this time he couldn’t reveal its name, but said company representatives had fallen love with the Cavalier Drug Store and CafĂ© in Jenkins and had enjoyed a visit to Raven Rock Golf Course, too. Ward said the Ferus people told him they believed other gas industry companies would follow them to Letcher County. He added that a regional manager had been hired for Ferus’ operations here and said its offices will be located in Letcher County and its vehicles will be licensed here, too.

Jim Polly, representing the city’s Planning Committee, reported that the committee will now be called the Centennial Planning Committee and directed interested parties to the committee’s Facebook page at facebook.com/2012 centennial. Polly said the committee plans a book of pictures covering Jenkins’ 100-year history and said it will extend the current city history book, written by Mayor Dixon in 1972, to bring it up to date for the 2012 Centennial. Polly added that the Jenkins Hall of Fame may be part of the celebration as well. Both candidates for mayor in the November elections (Councilman Todd DePriest and Jenkins resident G.C. Kincer) assured Polly of their full support for the committee’s work.

The mayor and council members were united in their praise of the Homecoming Days Committee for putting on what a number of them called the best festival ever. Councilman Chuck Anderson, who also serves on the committee, told the council the park was packed every evening and praised all the performers. Anderson told the council the Tams show on Friday night was one of the best he has ever seen and added that the Earl Thomas Conley show on Saturday evening was excellent as well. He praised both for their accessibility to the audience and said Conley stayed for hours after his show meeting his fans. Anderson said a full financial report will be presented as soon as all accounts are received and bills are paid.

Anderson said the committee is already planning for next year’s festival as well as the Halloween Safe Night scheduled for October 30, and for the Christmas Parade. Next year’s Homecoming Festival will be held on the weekend of August 25-27. Mayor Dixon echoed Anderson’s praise and said he wanted to thank former Jenkins resident Chuck Johnson, who emceed the events and performed as well. Utilities Commission Chairman Ked Sanders told the council he has already spoken with power company officials and another electrical drop will be added for next year’s festival to accommodate the evergrowing number of food vendors. Terrill-Amburgey also praised city workers for putting in long hours cleaning up after the daily events closed, and said she had received a number of compliments on the cleanliness of the restrooms.

In other business:

• Councilman Terry Braddock incorrectly accused the council of violating the Constitutional provision against ex posto fact (Latin for after the fact), by voting to publish the names of delinquent taxpayers in The Mountain
and adding the cost of publication to their tax bill. Ex posto facto refers to enforcing a law before it was actually passed by penalizing someone who broke the law before it went on the books. The city’s tax ordinance, including penalties, was already in effect and penalties have been prescribed for years. Mayor Dixon and City Attorney Randall Tackett both agreed that the city was well within its rights to penalize delinquent taxpayers.

• Mayor Dixon announced that J.D. Chaney, an annexation expert with the Kentucky League of Cities, will be at the Jenkins Public Library on September 29 to discuss diff erent annexation scenarios.

• Police Chief Adam Swindall reported that Jenkins police officers responded to 19 complaints in August, including 12 for vehicle collisions in which nine people were injured. City officers made 16 arrests, eight on warrants, six for drug-related offenses, and several for theft and burglary. Swindall reported that Officer Wendy Bates will start the 18-week basic training course in Richmond on September 26, and that Officer Thomas Allen Bormes has joined the force. Bormes is still in his field training phase. Swindall commended the Jenkins Volunteer Fire Department and city workers for their help during the Homecoming Days Festival.

• Mark Fibus represented Nesbitt Engineering at the meeting and reported on the progress of water and sewer line rehabilitation work and on progress being made at the Burdine Wastewater Treatment facility. Fibus said the Number Two Bottom Sewer Project is now complete, but Chuck Anderson said a good deal of cleanup needs to be done. He also said a pre-construction meeting was held on September 9 for Phase I of the Jenkins Water Line Rehabilitation Project and construction should begin on or before September 18. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for October 5. Fibus also reported that a $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission has been granted for Phase II of the work, which he said should begin as Phase I is winding down.

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