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Judge: fire departments in need of financial aid

Fire departments need help

The Letcher Fiscal Court may consider a fire district tax to fund volunteer fire departments struggling to survive.

Frustration is mounting among county volunteer fire departments as the court struggles to find a legally acceptable way to raise enough money through taxes or a special fee to fund the fire departments.

Judge/Executive Terry Adams told the Letcher County Fiscal Court at its meeting Monday night that a property tax increase, without exceeding the four percent compensating rate, will not provide enough funding for the departments. He suggested the court might want to look at a flat tax. County Attorney Jamie Hatton said in order to proceed with any kind of tax or fees for the departments, county fire district boundaries will have to be revisited and made distinct. He said the current 911 maps, which are used to delineate the fire districts for 911 operators, are not exact enough to determine the allocation of taxes.

Kingscreek Fire Chief Bill Meade, who has driven the effort for the county to better fund the fire departments, said the 911 maps are not in good shape and asked the court to call a 911 meeting in order to clarify the maps and fire district boundaries. The court voted to hold the meeting, and County Treasurer Doris Jean Frazier asked the fire departments to bring invoices or other spending plans to her office so she can use them to expedite the release of the remaining $5,000 from the state allocation.

Meade said the $11,000 the state released in July has already been spent to pay taxes, insurance, and vehicle maintenance costs, and warned that if no new revenue is made available, some departments will be forced to close their doors. The COVID-19 quarantine has limited the usual fundraising methods the departments have at their disposal, such as bingo and other methods that require large gatherings.

The court also opened bids for the demolition and removal of an abandoned house in Blackey. The only bid was from Greg Hale LLC of Letcher County for $4,500. The court voted to accept the bid contingent of the approval of Dean and Nina Cornett of Blackey, who have said they will pay the costs of removing the house.

In other business, the court voted to accept a set of guidelines developed by the Road Committee to be used to determining which roads are eligible to be accepted into the county road system. Committee member and District Two Magistrate Sherry Sexton told the court all the guidelines are based on state laws and regulations. The court voted unanimously to adopt Breezie Ridge Road as a county road.

Scheduling for county road work will also change as the court voted to allow magistrates to submit the most pressing road work needs in their district, and the work will be done by need. Work will be prioritized and workers will be assigned to the area with the greatest need.

The court also voted to add Oakley Fugate, Sergeant, U.S. Army to the Memorial Board at Blackey, and to dedicate a section of Highway 805 between mile markers 4 and 5 in memory of Kristopher Lucas, U.S. Army, Vietnam. The court also voted to name the bridge at Perkins Branch in Jeremiah in honor of Courtney Clay Collier, Airman First Class, U.S. Air Force.

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