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Jenkins delays vote again

The Jenkins City Council once again declined to vote on a controversial proposal to raise sanitation rates on businesses served by the city at its November meeting. After receiving a color-coded spreadsheet created by council member Rick Damron and discussing the matter at some length, the council tabled the matter. Mayor Charles Dixon asked council members to carefully deliberate on the spreadsheet and to be ready to vote in December.

The move to delay came after council member Chuck Anderson objected to an increase of $116.88 per month on Burdine Elementary School. The current rate for the school is $200 per month and under the rate increases proposed by the Utilities Commission, the rate would increase to $316.88, at $3.75 per yard for Dumpsters. The spreadsheet gave increases and decrease for proposed rates from $3 per yard to $6 per yard, which the commission reported is the general rate for surrounding communities.

The current price structure loses money for the city with a total of $5,940 per month. Under the $3.75 per yard structure, that would increase to $6,567.19 per month. At $6 per month, the city would bring in $10,103.80. The city lost approximately $20,000 last year on sanitation fees and Mayor Dixon said it went $3,000 “in the hole” last month.

Damron told the council the lowest rate the city can charge and break even is $3.50 per yard and that will generate only $300 per month over costs. Damron said it is important to pay for the service but it is also important that rates be applied fairly and across the board. City Clerk Sherry Puckett said the rates were originally modeled on the City of Hazard’s rate structure and as businesses came into the city other rates were applied. Council member Rebecca Terrill said the difference in rates charged to different businesses was “startling,” and it is imperative that a standard structure be adopted to make it fair for everyone.

“Fair is fair,” said Terrill. “This will enable the city to tell people how they are charged and how the rates are set. Nobody wants to see their bills go up but we don’t want an unfair price structure either. We can’t go back and fix it (to recover losses) but we can make it fair. We have a responsibility to run the city correctly.”

Damron agreed and said while rates will increase for some businesses, they will decrease considerably for others. He pointed out that while the Burdine Elementary School rates increased, rates at the Jenkins Middle High School dropped slightly and that Jenkins Independent Schools had recently raised taxes as well. (The recent tax rate increase presented to the Letcher County Fiscal Court by the Jenkins Independent School District raised school taxes in Jenkins on both real and personal property by 12.2 cents per $100, from 56.7 cents to 68.9 cents.)

Damron said the rates are based on the size of the Dumpster and the frequency of pick-ups. Terrill said it might cause businesses to look more closely at what they were putting in their Dumpsters and Damron suggested that some businesses might see the advantage of recycling more clearly as well.

Council member Carol Anne Litts told the council the current rate is not fair and should be corrected to be applied equally to everyone. Litts said the council should look at what people can afford and what the town can afford as well. She said the issue is one of fairness in pricing for everyone.

“It’s fair for everybody to pay the same amount per yard,” said Litts. “What’s fair to charge per yard?”

Litts also asked how much the city loses on uncollected sanitation bills, but Dixon said it is impossible to calculate because garbage fees are part of the utilities package which includes water and sewer service as well. He said when any customer, business or residential, gets behind a total of 60 days in utility bills, the water is cut off and only turned back on after the bill is settled. Dixon said that unfortunately, this is a repeated cycle for some users.

In other business, City Engineer Paul Nesbitt told the council that he expects the McPeek’s Branch/Cane Branch Water Project to go to bid within 30 to 45 days and hopes to begin construction sometime early next year and finish the project by spring. Nesbitt said since AML (Kentucky Abandoned Mine Lands) is going to pay for the entire package under its criteria for restoring water to areas damaged by mining, a line item of $400,000 from the state budget originally allocated for the project can be used for overall improvements to strengthen the system. He said Nesbitt Engineering is moving forward on obtaining funding for the total rehab project for city water lines as well and praised 94th District State Representative Leslie Combs for her assistance at the state level. Nesbitt added that he expects a new incentive package to come from Congress early next year for infrastructure and job creation and has already applied for federal funding in order to be ready.

“I wanted to get Jenkins’s name on the list,” said Nesbitt. “The government wants to see the stimulus money spread around and will favor projects that are ready to go. Jenkins will be ready.”

In the Mayor’s Report, Dixon emphasized the importance of a sound infrastructure for the city and said as long as the city continues to lose so much treated water to leaks it is “the same as pouring dollars in a rat hole.” Dixon also said the city will begin to issue city stickers December 1 at a price of $10 per sticker. The last day to purchase stickers without penalty will be January 1, 2009. Dixon said the stickers pay for salt used to clear ice from city streets and that salt currently costs $118.30 per ton.

Dixon reported that the city will purge uncollectable utility bills from the rolls. These are bills from people who are deceased or have moved with no forwarding address. He also praised the work of the Blighted and Deteriorated Property Committee and Chairperson Sara Brown. City tax bills will be due as of November 1 and the last day to pay city taxes without penalty will be December 31. Dixon announced plans to convert the old railbed from Jenkins to Burdine into a landscaped walking track for public use.

Mayor Dixon opened the meeting by presenting Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward with a plaque to show the city’s appreciation for all the help it has received from the fiscal court. Dixon said Ward and the court have unfailingly answered when Jenkins needed assistance and without the county’s help, it would not be possible to keep some city roads mowed and free from weeds. Ward thanked Dixon and said he believes it is the responsibility of the court to serve the entire county and to work with every community equally.

“We’re all part of Letcher County,” said Ward. “If our government doesn’t work together then it’s a step backward.”

Other city business conducted at the November meeting:

• The city-sponsored Halloween Safe Night was recognized as a big success. Rebecca Terrill singled out Police Chief Jim Stephens for his participation and good humor at the event. She also said she heard a lot of school children pointing Stephens and other officers out as “the good guys.” Stephens said that is one of the advantages of being able to increase the department’s visibility in city schools.

• Blighted and Deteriorated Property Chair Sara Brown asked that two additional properties, the old Tommy Shehee property in Burdine and a piece of property on Williams Circle on Elkhorn Avenue, owner unknown, be added to the blighted property list for city action.

• Mayor Dixon reported a scheduled meeting with Matt Curtis of Nesbitt Engineering and a contractor to get estimates on dredging Jenkins Lake for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

• The council voted unanimously to open a separate city checking account for AML funds for the Cane Branch/McPeek’s Branch water project. The separate account is required as a provision of the grant.

• The council voted unanimously to amend the city budget to accept a Kentucky River Area Development District grant for $1,721 to purchase a concrete saw for city workers.

• The council voted unanimously to approve Eileen Sanders for membership to the board of the Dave Zegeer Coal and Railroad Museum.

• Police Chief Stephens reported the Jenkins Police Department responded to 93 complaints on October and made 14 arrests. Two arrests were for DUI, four were drug related, two were for domestic violence and three were from warrants. He also reported attending a Safe Schools Convention in Louisville with Jenkins Independent Schools Director of Pupil Personnel Harvey Tackett. Stephens said the city and school system may participate in “Rachel’s Challenge” which commemorates the students killed in the Columbine massacre and is geared toward preventing school violence.

• City workers reported that blue bag collection was down to 475 in October and 14 water leaks were repaired. They installed one new fire plug in Burdine and fixed two in Dunham.

• Water losses for October were down to 23 percent unaccounted for loss, or 100,613 gallons a day. Total losses were 8,353,000 with 5,234,000 accounted for including 3,600,000 in line breaks.

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