Whitesburg KY

Jenkins school tax worries city

Last week’s decision by the Jenkins Independent School Board to raise its property tax rate to 79.9 cents per $100 has led to questions and a letter of concern from the Jenkins City Council.

At the city council’s October meeting, council members questioned School Board Member Eileen Sanders and voted to send a letter to the school board expressing their concern that the ongoing high school taxes in Jenkins are stifling the city’s opportunity to grow, as well as creating a climate unfriendly to business.

The letter questioned the untimely date (Sunday, September 29, at 6 p.m.) of the special meeting called to pass the tax rate as well as the lack of public notice. Although the school board fulfilled its legal obligations under the Kentucky Open Records Act by notifying newspapers and other news outlets in the required amount of time, there was no public notice of the meeting. Other than the school board members, only a reporter from The Mountain Eagle attended the meeting.

Sanders explained that the school board was placed in a bad spot by a re-valuation of property conducted last year, which lowered the taxable amount on property considerably. She said the state had recommended a much higher compensating rate of $1.01cents per $100 which would have kept the school system’s tax receipts at the rate they were last year, but the board had not felt it could raise taxes that high. She said that even by setting the rate at 79.9 cents per $100, it is likely to lose around $130,000.

Mayor G.C. Kincer told Sanders that although he continues to support keeping the school system in Jenkins and believes the council members do as well, there is tremendous concern among the citizens of Jenkins, many of whom are calling for the Jenkins Independent School System to be absorbed into Letcher County Schools. Kincer said he believes the schools are still an important factor in the city’s overall life, but added that it is very difficult for many people in Jenkins to bear the tax rate.

“It’s a concern of the council and a lot of the citizens,” said Kincer. “It is taking a lot of wiggle room away from the city at a time when we are trying to grow.”

City Attorney Randall Tackett asked if the closing of McRoberts Elementary School had not been sufficient to contain the costs in the system, but Sanders said the system is operating on a barebones budget right now and is struggling to retain staff as it is. She added that the problem is statewide, due to the state legislature’s unwillingness to fund education and shifting the load to local districts.

“The state is not funding education,” said Sanders. “When they passed KERA, in the early 1990s, they were supposed to increase funding, but now they are cutting it.”

Councilman Rick Damron, who abstained from voting on the letter because of his connections with the Lady Cavalier softball team, said that he believes the city needs the school, but added that there is a group within the city who wants to see it absorbed into the county system and who feel that the school’s high tax rates make it difficult to live within the city. Mayor Kincer reaffirmed that while he supports the school remaining open, he is also aware of a growing feeling within the community that the costs are becoming unsustainable. The vote to approve the letter was 3-0 with Damron abstaining. Kyle Walker, Robert Adams, and Carol Anne Litts voted yes. Rebecca Amburgey and Chuck Anderson did not attend the meeting.

“We are just sounding the alarm on behalf of the city,” said Kincer.

In other business, Councilman Robert Adams praised the city police and fire departments for their good work during a very busy Saturday evening when several events were going on simultaneously. Adams said there was a pig roast at the Masonic Lodge, the monthly Cruise-In, “the EPIC Glow for Ro” five kilometer run/walk fundraiser, as well as a church-related event and that while city officers and fire department personnel were pressed, it went very well, with just a few traffic-related glitches due to the streets being closed for the 5K. Mayor Kincer agreed and said he apologizes if anyone was inconvenienced. Kincer added that this kind of evening is very good for the city and Adams estimated that as many as 500 people came to Jenkins for the evening.

The council discussed a pending lease arrangement for a restaurant in the city community center, which is about 80 percent complete, according to City Manager Todd DePriest. Rick Damron said that from figures the council came up with during a work session, the city will need $1,500 a month in rent with the lessee taking care of utility costs. The council agreed that the city does not need to run the restaurant itself. The members previously voted at a special meeting held on September 23 to enter into a lease agreement with Josh and Becky Fleming, provided details could be worked out to both parties’ satisfaction.

Paul Nesbitt of Nesbitt Engineering reported that several city water and sewer projects which have been approved for funding will be delayed by the federal government shutdown. Nesbitt said that funding for a project to upgrade filters in the city water plant and run new lines to the tank that will serve county water customers has been approved by Abandoned Mine Lands, but will be placed on hold until the shutdown lifts as well as a drawdown for finalize payment to the contractor for Phase III, which ran new lines on Lakeside. A Memorandum of Agreement for Phase III of the Payne Gap Water Project is also on hold, but the council voted unanimously to allow Nesbitt Engineering to advertise for bids when funds are released

In other business:

• The council voted unanimously to set the city’s tax rate for real property at 34.99 cents per $100 of real and tangible property, which is unchanged from last year. The members voted at the September 23 called meeting to keep the same rate as last year of 42.19 cents per $100 on watercraft and motor vehicles as well.

• City Manager DePriest announced that the Jenkins Swimming Pool is closed and city workers are closing the pool down and preparing it for winter.

• The city treated 17,329,000 gallons of water in September and sold 4,991,000 gallons, which included 522,000 gallons sold to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District for a difference of 12,338,000 gallons, or a 71 percent potential loss. Of that, 5,271,400 gallons are accounted for and 7,066,600 are unaccounted, or a 30 percent unaccounted for loss.

• The city transported 112 tons of solid waste to the landfill and collected 646 “Blue Bags” of recyclables, with Tuesday the high day for recycling at 198 bags.

• Tommy Turnmyre and Oliver Muncy, both members of the Jenkins Volunteer Fire Department, have now completed 400 hours of training.

• The council voted unanimously to set a maximum fee for legal services in connection with projects financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency and voted to enter into an agreement with Municipal Bond Attorneys Ruben and Hayes of Louisville to serve as bond attorneys for the agreement.

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