The $3 a month raise in sanitation bills that was approved at the November meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court will not be enough to keep the Letcher County Recycling Center in operation, says Judge/Executive Jim Ward.
Ward told four of the county’s five magistrates who attended a special session of the fiscal court on December 11 that without an additional $3 a month increase in overall sanitation fees the recycling center will be forced to close its doors.
The court voted to continue with the $3 increase for now, which takes the monthly sanitation bills for homes to $15. Ward first proposed a $6 increase in sanitation bills at the fiscal court’s November meeting, saying the recycling center might fail without it. However, magistrates would only agree to the $3 increase and a few changes designed to cut operating costs at the recycling center. Those changes include no more pick-up of cardboard at homes and business, charging for picking up large items, and no longer picking up recyclables for the city governments.
Ward now says the scheduled $3 increase in fees will make the trash collection division of the sanitation department break even, but will do nothing to address the $216,000 deficit the recycling center operated under during Fiscal Year 2014-15.
Asked about the savings from re- cyclables that do not go to the landfill with the regular garbage, Ward said those are not enough to offset the cost of labor, machinery and fuel to operate the recycling program. He said that the amount of waste that was recycled last year (243 tons) rather than taken to the landfill saved the county just over $10,000 against the operating deficit of $216,000. In order to keep the recycling center open and blue bag pick-ups going throughout the county, the court will have to vote to raise the sanitation fees to $18 per month, Ward said.
If the sanitation rate are eventually raised to $18, it will place Letcher County’s rates a little higher than rates charged in most of Letcher’s surrounding counties — many of them serviced by large commercial trash collection companies. Letcher County’s current rate of $15 per month trails Knott County’s $17.37 per month fee for weekly pick-up. Both Harlan County and Perry County contract with Waste Connections of Eastern Kentucky for trash collection. Officials at Waste Connection’s Lily offices did not return phone calls concerning questions about their rates. However, a Harlan County resident told The Mountain Eagle she had just paid her sanitation bill and it was $17.64 a month. A Perry County resident said hers was $16.70 a month. Pike County charges $15.50 a month.
District Two Magistrate Terry Adams said he thinks the court should discuss the matter with the cities. Ward said he has already done so, and said Whitesburg Mayor James Wiley Craft told him the city might be able to absorb some of the cost of picking up Whitesburg recyclables. But, said Ward, Jenkins and Fleming-Neon are unlikely to be able to help out much, if at all.
District Four Magistrate Keith Adams said that he would like to hear the opinion of the people who would be affected by the additional $3 increase before voting on it.
Ward suggested the court go ahead and conduct the first reading of the original ordinance approved in November that raises the fee by $3. He added that if magistrates do decide to raise the fee another $3 to save the recycling center, the ordinance can be modified to reflect the change before the second reading. The vote to approve the first reading of the original motion was four to one with Terry Adams, who had opposed the November motion, voting no. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who had also opposed increasing the rate, was unable to attend the meeting.
The ordinance calls for a monthly sanitation rate of $15 (a $3 increase) for residential customers ($13 for senior citizens 65 years or older). There is a drop-off fee for waste at the transfer station for municipal, residential, or commercial customers of $50 per ton, which is an increase of $4.64 per ton. Commercial businesses will be charged $10 per yard of garbage collected at the business, a $1.66 per yard increase. A $25 per pick-up load fee will be assessed for any resident who requests the collection of bulky rubbish and household material. This is in addition to the monthly sanitation fee.
In other business at last week’s special meeting, the court voted unanimously to increase the monthly telephone surcharge on every telephone in Letcher County by the amount of $1 to properly fund the county’s 911 service. The original surcharge was $1.25 per phone and the new surcharge will be $2.25 per month. The vote to approve was unanimous.
The court also voted to file a request for a Kentucky Appalachian Regional Development Fund (KARD) Grant of up to $50,000 in KARD (SOAR) Funds. The funds will be allocated to the county for the purpose of renovating the Letcher County Recreation Center to include expanded space for senior services. The vote to file the application for the grant was unanimous.