The Jenkins City Council closed its July meeting with a challenge from Mayor Charles Dixon to council member Terry Braddock to accompany city workers as they conduct meter readings and to examine city financial records if he believes there is any wrongdoing going on in the city. Dixon spoke in response to a letter in the July 7 Mountain Eagle
in which Braddock accused Dixon of inflating water bills and intimidating customers.
In his letter, Braddock wrote that he had received citizen complaints concerning water bills and said he had reported the matter to the Assistant Attorney General, although he did not specify to which Assistant AG he had reported. He said he had included five water bills. He also said that Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling had “thumbed his nose” at his request and that Commonwealth Attorney Edison Banks lacked the will to investigate and thought he had no case. Braddock presented himself as a champion of the people and wrote that the condition of city streets resembled those in “war torn third world nations.” The letter is the latest in an ongoing series of attacks and accusations Braddock has made against the mayor.
After directing the council to examine City Ordinance 109, which was passed into law by the council in February 1983, Dixon told the council than an ordinance is law and it is his job as chief executive officer of the city to see that the law is enforced. The ordinance calls for a deposit of $10 for water and an additional $10 for sewer service and gives the city the right to terminate service if an account is more than 60 days overdue. Last year the council voted to change the grace period to 30 days, but other language, including a requirement that disconnected customers must pay the entire amount of their outstanding bill plus a $40 re-connect fee, remained unchanged.
“We will enforce the law and do it fairly,” said Dixon. “We send out notices (of impending discontinua- tion of service) and if they don’t pay, people get cut off. Charles Dixon didn’t make this ordinance nor is he enforcing it illegally.”
Braddock replied that city streets badly need attention and when Dixon reminded him that city workers have been constantly busy repairing water leaks in the city’s antiquated water lines, Braddock said repairing potholes and keeping streets fixed is the city’s number one responsibility. He added that many driveways are inaccessible.
“More important than providing water and sewer?” asked Dixon. “And we don’t do people’s driveways.”
Dixon then told Braddock if he was concerned about billing procedures he should join city workers during their rounds to read meters. He also invited Braddock and any of the agencies he had threatened to unleash in his letter to examine the city’s financial records.
“I understand you are concerned about utility costs,” said Dixon. “Our men read meters on Wednesday and Thursday. I suggest you go with them.”
Braddock replied he had already reported the matter to the Kentucky Attorney General’s office and said, “It’s out of my hands. It will be investigated.”
“Have the Commonwealth Attorney, the Attorney General, whoever, come in and look at our books,” said Dixon. “You can look too.”
In other business, Councilman Rick Damron, who said he took exception to recent remarks by actress and Kentucky native Ashley Judd concerning the ravages of mountaintop removal strip mining, said he would like to invite Judd to come and look at the reclaimed strip mines around Jenkins, naming the sites of the Gateway Industrial Park and Raven Rock Golf Course as examples of successful reclamation. Council member Rebecca Terrill-Amburgy warned that Judd might see some eyesores on her way to Letcher County.
“I hope she doesn’t have to fly over those (strip mines) in Pike County to get here,” said Terrill- Amburgey.
In other business, Mayor Dixon directed council members to examine data he had placed in their packets concerning a comparison of profits and expenses in city income and expenses between Fiscal Years 2008-2009 and 2009- 2010. The data shows that city income from water income is up from $262,670.32 to $308,157.11 and sewer income has dropped from $344,818.50 to $252,515.19 during the same period. Water and sewer payrolls have risen from $84,289.21 to $101,677.53 and income from city taxes has risen from $164,049.40 to $176,511.22. The city was required to raise water fees to accommodate a 2008 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency for water line replacement efforts, and Dixon and City Attorney Randall Tackett have made a concerted effort to improve collection of city taxes as well as other city fees and delinquent accounts. Braddock referred to the water fee increase as a “travesty of justice” in the October 2008 council meeting.
Utilities Board Chairman Ked Sanders praised city workers and officials and thanked Nesbitt Engineering in his Utilities Report. Sanders said he was pleased to be able to deliver a positive report and that water and sewer problems in the city are getting better. He said Mayor Dixon and all the council who supported the “progressive initiative” of replacing water lines and repairing city sewers had helped to turn around a problem that has existed for 40 years. Sanders told the council he had run for city council in 1978 under the banner of the “Better Water Party” to illustrate the ongoing nature of the problem.
“Things are turning around,” said Sanders. “I thank all who sup- ported the initiative. You had to make some unpopular decisions, but you had the guts to do it.”
The council also heard good news from Water Department Superintendent Bo Hopkins, who reported lower water production and higher sales, coupled with a low 14 percent unaccounted for water loss. Hopkins said three major water leaks had been eliminated by replacing a mishmash of water lines in Camden Road with a single new one that was paid for with funds from Abandoned Mine Lands at no cost to the city. Sanders echoed Hopkins, saying that a 14 percent unaccounted for loss was wonderful. Mayor Dixon agreed, saying it seems like a miracle. Past figures for unaccounted for water losses have exceeded 50 percent of the total amount of water produced by the city.
The city produced 12,204,000 gallons of treated water in June and sold 4,924,000 gallons, for a difference of 7,280,000 gallons. Total losses accounted for stood at 5,536,000, including 2,563,000 in line breaks and 1,502,000 for use at the city wastewater plant. Unaccounted for losses totaled 1,744,000 gallons.
Paul Nesbitt, of Nesbitt Engineering, a Lexington- and Hazardbased firm working with the city on water and sewer issues, told the council he was extremely pleased to see such a quick result in reducing water losses realized from one project. Nesbitt said he had thought the city might have to get halfway through the project to completely replace its water lines and eliminate lines dating back to the city’s founding in 1912 before results were so apparent.
Nesbitt told the council that bids have been opened for Phase I of the Waterline Replacement Project and contractor K Carrender of Somerset had come in with the low bid. He said he was familiar with the company’s work and recommended the city accept the bid. Nesbitt asked the council to give Mayor Dixon the authority to sign a contract with Carrender pending approval of the various funding agencies associated with Phase I. The council approved Nesbitt’s request unanimously. Nesbitt said Phase I will replace approximately five times as much of the city’s water lines as the Camden Road Project and that he hopes to see funding for Phase II complete before construction actually begins on Phase I.
Nesbitt also said work on the Burdine Wastewater Treatment Plant should be finished by the end of September and improved flow results from the repairs as well as repairs to city sewer lines are already apparent in flow charts for water coming into and leaving the plant. He added that the city was also able to secure an additional $250,000 in President Obama’s stimulus funds through the Kentucky Department of Water to use in extending city sewer lines to all the houses in Dairy Hollow.
In the Mayor’s Report, Mayor Dixon thanked everyone who was associated with the welcoming ceremonies for Ferus Corporation of Canada, which announced plans to locate a nitrogen removal plant at the Gateway Industrial Park. Dixon said Ferus officials were very pleased with the warm and friendly reception from citizens and thanked Governor Steve Beshear, State Senator Johnny Ray Turner, State Representative Leslie Combs and members of the Letcher County Fiscal Court for their work in helping to bring Ferus to Jenkins. Dixon also thanked Judge/Executive Jim Ward, who presented Governor Beshear, and Dick Brown, President and CEO of Ferus CA, with homemade quilts.
Dixon also reminded citizens that the city is making efforts to collect past due utility bills, tax bills, occupational licenses, and city stickers. He said making sure these fees are paid is the fair thing, considering those citizens who pay their fair share on time. Dixon also urged Jenkins citizens to participate in blue bag recycling to help reduce landfill fees and said he and the council are considering ways to reward those sanitation customers who recycle. He said June had the lowest total of blue bags collected in 2010, with only 658.
In other council business:
• Police Chief Adam Swindall reported that Jenkins Police offi- cers responded to 124 complaints, five of which concerned motor vehicle collisions. Seven arrests were made, three from warrants, and 11 citations were issued, including several for no occupational license or other city violations. Seven warnings were issued as well. Swindall told the council that Officer Scott Ratliff had resigned to accept a position with Coal Run in Pike County and he had started procedures to select a new officer for a part-time position including background checks and physical fitness tests. Swindall also commended Officer Anthony Maggard and told how Maggard’s attempts to help a victim at a fatal accident in Payne Gap had brought comfort to the family.
• Mayor Dixon presented the council with copies of an ordinance allowing permissible operation of all terrain vehicles on the city streets of Evarts in Harlan County for use as a template in crafting a similar ordinance for Jenkins. Dixon said it would be important to have an ATV ordinance in place to maximize business opportunities and protect citizens when the county-wide system of ATV trails is opened.
• Fire Chief Rick Corbett told the council that activity was slower in June with 11 calls and three structure fires. Corbett reported good news in the acquisition of 26 self-contained breathing apparatuses from the Quarryville, Penn., Fire Department, at no charge. Corbett said the Jenkins Volunteer Fire Department had previously purchased a surplus vehicle from the Quarryville department and when Quarryville replaced its apparatus, the chief called Corbett and asked if he wanted the old ones. Corbett estimated the equipment to be worth over $100,000. He also told the council he is working with City Finance Officer Robin Kincer and council member Todd DePriest to find the most favorable terms for financing a new fire truck, which was approved at the May council meeting.
• Councilman Chuck Anderson said preparations for the Jenkins Homecoming Days Festival are in order and, in answer to a question from Dixon, said all funds for the festival including donations, rental fees, profits from t-shirt and concession sales, etc. go into a single account. Anderson said in addition to the Homecoming Festival, the account also pays for the Halloween Safe Night and the Christmas Parade and provides a substantial donation to the Jenkins Kids Day. He said the entire entertainment budget for the festival is around $20,000 and that t-shirts which have a picture of a coal train leaving the old Dunham Consol Plant will be on sale soon.
• Councilman Braddock reported reading that Pike County Judge/Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said he regretted losing the Ferus plant to Jenkins, but that Rutherford was certain Ferus would locate its corporate offi ces in Pikeville. Braddock recommended that every effort be made to get the offices located in Jenkins.
• City Attorney Tackett conducted the first reading of an ordinance to require that vehicles parking on the street in Number Two Bottom must park on the north side of the street. Because it was a first reading, no council action was required.
• Mayor Dixon reminded council members and other offi ce seekers that close of business on August 10 is the final deadline to file for the November election. Papers must be filed in County Court Clerk Winston Meade’s office before the end of the business day.
• Dixon also reported a $50,000 line item in the state budget for coal severance tax receipts to be allotted to Jenkins. Dixon said $5,000 is mandated for the police department but the remainder is for use in maintenance and improvements. Council member Terrill-Amburgy recommended using part of the money to create ATV access on the old railroad bed running through the city.
• Mayor Dixon also pointed to existing Ordinance 92.03, which prohibits public nuisances in the form of dangerous trees or stacks of wood, metal, etc along adjoining city streets, accumulation of rubbish, noxious odors or smoke, noise, storage of explosives, excessive growth of weeds or grass over 12 inches, open wells, trees and shrubbery obstructing city streets, keeping animals and junk, scrap metal, and junk motor vehicles. Dixon, who has long advocated for a clean city, expressed his frustration with “fighting this same battle” and said he has instructed Police Chief Swindall to see that the ordinance is enforced.