The Letcher County Fiscal Court has voted unanimously to approve issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to install a wireless tower in the Linefork area that will provide wireless service to several hundred homes. The installation will mark the first step in an effort to bring broadband Internet service to the most underserved area of Letcher County and will be the first of at least three steps to provide coverage to the area around Campbells Branch, Linefork, Ulvah, and Red Star.
At the court’s March meeting, Roland Brown of the Letcher County Broadband Board, made a PowerPoint presentation that showed the area and the effectiveness of using wireless Wi-Fi towers like the ones in use inside the City of Whitesburg to serve the remote areas of the county. Brown said the board had originally planned to lay miles of fiber optic cable, which he called the “gold standard” approach. However, after finding funding difficult to obtain, especially without projects actually underway, Brown said the board had agreed to move to find an acceptable approach that will provide the Internet standard broadband service of 25 megabytes per second (MB) download speed and the business standard of five MB.
Brown told the court that it would cost about the same to serve one third of the households in the entire Linefork Area as it does to run one mile of fiber optic cable, although he said it’s not feasible to present an exact figure until the RFPs are in. He said it costs more than $60,000 per mile to run fiber optic cable under the best conditions, and the estimates for the first tower are about $75,000.
A video available at the Letcher County Broadband Board’s Facebook site describes the process.
The board also provides instructions to obtain a “speed test” to determine upload and download speeds. An in-house demonstration with equipment provided by Michael Clemons, owner of GigaBeam networks, showed download speeds of more than 80 MB and an upload speed of about 10.
Brown said the installation would require at least a solid pole, and probably a tower, with a transmitter attached. Every home would have a receiver which will be furnished by the provider. The equipment would belong to the county and the monthly service fee will be paid to the county to help it recover the cost of installation. He said it is important that there be no exorbitant costs and initial fees in order to allow Letcher County customers to have full access. Brown also said that although the first three installations will address the needs of the most densely populated areas in the target area, it is the board’s intention that every resident of the county will eventually have access to broadband service.
In other business, the court heard a report from Ken Mullins of the Kentucky Department of Transportation concerning the county’s participation in the Kentucky Rural and Secondary Roads program. Mullins said the total allocation is around $1,445,000 and will address road repairs, guardrails, and asphalt patching. He fielded several questions from magistrates about needs in their districts and said that he would be available to anyone who wanted to add new roads or tell him about other needs. He also said the paving project to resurface Kentucky Route 15 from Action Auto at Van to Isom would be done this year. He said the area had run out of good weather for paving last year before it could be done. The court voted unanimously to participate and to accept $103,535 for county road projects.
Deputy LaShawna Frazier of the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department addressed the court concerning a vote it took last month to make deputy and bailiff positions qualify as hazardous for Kentucky Requirement and to make the retirement a part of the sheriff ’s budget rather than the court’s. In the past, hazardous duty retirement had been paid by the court and reimbursed by the sheriff ’s department, but under the new arrangement, the sheriff ’s department would pay for it. However, Frazier said she has been informed that the arrangement would only be available in counties with a population of over 70,000, and Letcher County does not qualify. The court voted to return to the previous arrangement.
Judge/ Executive Jim Ward said he has been asked by the Kentucky Association of Counties to address the General Assembly on increases in retirement costs to counties. Ward said he has been informed by insurance carriers that Letcher County will face an increase in retirement pay of $245,288 this year and he has no idea where the money will come from, considering how tight the budget is. He said the matter he will address before the Assembly is a request to spread the payments over at least a five-year period to allow cash-strapped county governments room to cover the costs. He added that there are bills in both the House and Senate to address the problem but neither has passed. Ward said until Senate Bill One, which addresses changes in state retirement benefits, is addressed, very little else will get done.
The court also voted to name Lazy Day Drive in honor of Senior Airman Gary G. Henson, U.S. Air Force.
Bank balances for county agencies as of February 28
• General Fund: $667,660.41
• Road and Bridge Fund: $1,043,667.40
• Jail Fund: $76,898.34
• LGEA Fund: $261,285.42
• Senior Citizens Fund: $227.37
• Forestry Fund: $18,141.79
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Depreciation Reserve: $5,129.61
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Debt Service: $254,948.93
Total of all Funds: $2,327,959.27