Whitesburg KY

Magistrate testifies about high light bills

Two Letcher County magistrates say they have talked with state officials in hopes of getting relief for homeowners and businesses saddled with some of the highest monthly electric bills in Kentucky.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming told his fellow members of the Letcher Fiscal Court this week that he had been to Frankfort testifying about the high power bills before the House Committee on Energy. District Three Magistrate Woody Holbrook said he had spoken with Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear about the high power rates as well.

Fleming said he was in Frankfort last month after 94th District State Representative Leslie Combs arranged for him to testify before the Committee on Energy. He said that representatives of electric companies as well as the Public Service Commission were also in attendance. Fleming said it seemed that neither group cared much for what he had to say about the prices residents of Letcher County are charged for electricity.

“I told them it’s a shame the way they’re doing the people of eastern Kentucky,” Fleming said after Monday’s March meeting of the fiscal court. “Kentucky Power was there asking for another raise.” (The Kentucky Public Service Commission has scheduled a public hearing at its office in Frankfort April 7 to consider a request from Kentucky Power Company concerning its fuel adjustment charges dating back to May 2015. A legal notice about the hearing appears on Page B6 of this issue of The Mountain Eagle.)

Fleming said he told the House committee about a Fleming woman who lives on $600 a month and has to pay most of that for power during the winter months.

“It about brought me to tears telling about our people here,” he said. “I told them we have people doing without medicine and doing without food. I don’t know if it did any good.”

Fleming said he also told the committee members that the Public Service Commission needs to have at least one member who represents the people with lower incomes.

“Most of them agreed with me, but they said the problem is you’ve got a subcommittee on every bill that comes up, making it impossible to get it out of committee because of the lobbyists,” he said.

In other business, Fleming told the court he had received reports of trash at Fishpond Lake and when he visited he found a large amount of garbage from a weekend event. He also said that the problem of campers staying past the time limit for camping has re-emerged, and that one man had camped there since last October.

Fleming said the county still has one Letcher County Ranger on the payroll and he should visit the lake in uniform regularly to make sure that visitors are aware of park rules and obey them.

Meanwhile, the fiscal court is entering a critical period that will determine if it is to escape the 2015-16 Fiscal Year without taking further action to ensure that it does not end the year with a deficit budget balance.

County Treasurer Phillip Hampton told magistrates that the last quarter of the fiscal year, which begins in April, will be the “critical time” for the budget.

To add to the county’s financial problems, Judge/ Executive Jim Ward reported that landfill tipping fees have been raised by 79 cents a ton, which will increase the amount the county pays to dump solid waste to $45.39 per ton, up from $44.60. Ward told the magistrates he doesn’t know anyplace else the county can take solid waste and the court voted unanimously to accept the increase. In December, the court voted to increase sanitation fees by $3 per month in order to break even on the sanitation budget.

The court also voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an ordinance that will permit Letcher County to participate in “KentuckyWired,” a federal and state broadband improvement program that will increase Internet speeds over a multi-county region. A board of directors will be established to oversee current and future broadband planning with regional partners and Ward said that a $250,000 grant has been awarded to help eastern Kentucky counties with the necessary planning.

The court also approved the 2016-2017 Budget for the Letcher County Jail. County Jailer Don McCall delivered the $1,160,479 budget to the court, which he said is $35,000 lower than last year. The vote to approve the budget was unanimous.

In other business, Ken Mullins of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet visited the court to report on this year’s plans for repairs on rural secondary roads in Letcher County. The county will receive $469,293.66 for road repairs and Mullins told the court the roads that were deemed priorities will be addressed and the state will continue to make repairs until funds run out. He said that the work will be confined to patching roads in need of repair. In response to a question from Third District Magistrate Woody Holbrook, he said that a portion of Highway 3406 on Bottom Fork and other roads that were damaged by last year’s flooding that occurred after the heavy snows thawed will be paid for from Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and work will begin when the funds are received.

Dr. David Narramore, Chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, told the court the tourism commission has been working to promote local restaurants along with places to stay, shop, and eat in a full color brochure, which will be distributed throughout the state later in the year. The commission used the information it gathered for the brochure for an ad that was placed in the 2016 Country Music Highway Guide as well. Narramore also said that younger members of the tourism commission would like to see more events targeted to a younger audience and hope to tie adventure tourism in with music events in the county. In keeping with the adventure tourism theme, a bicycle-racing event, the Pine Mountain Summit Challenge, will be held on August 27 this year. For further information, contact Winston Lee at 606- 634-1600.

The court also voted to name Valley Branch Road at Gordon Fire Department in memory of Lance Corporal Dailey Cornett, U.S. Marines; Electronics Technician 2 Malvin Eugene Bailey, U.S. Navy, and Private First Class William H. Barger, U.S. Army.

In other court business:

• County Attorney Jamie Hatton told Berma Matthews of Blackey that he would have a lease agreement for the old senior citizens center ready to sign this week.

• District Two Magistrate Terry Adams reported that a flag raising ceremony to honor Vietnam veterans will be held at the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital on March 29 at 7:45 a.m.

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