Whitesburg KY

Mayor Craft criticizes grocery chain’s response to city

Mayor James Wiley Craft is reporting mixed news about a fee increase which was enacted at the June 2007 meeting of the Whitesburg City Council. At that meeting, the council voted to raise the vendor occupational license fees from $187.50 to $300 per vehicle delivering goods in the city limits.

Mayor Craft told the council at its February meeting that thanks to the diligent efforts of city employee Linda Ison and the outstanding cooperation of all but one business in the city, Whitesburg raised $48,000 in January from the new fee. However, Craft said that Food City, a regional grocery chain, had refused to cooperate by furnishing the city with a list of vendors that deliver to its Whitesburg store.

Craft accused Food City management employees in Whitesburg and in the company’s main office in Abingdon, Va., of being “rude” when contacted first by Ison and later by him.

“Mrs. Ison is carrying the ball and doing well,” said Craft. “But we’re having a problem with Food City. The people at Food City were very rude with her and very rude with me. We get good cooperation from Pepsi, Coke, and the other vendors, but Food City has been an absolute beast and they have refused to furnish us with the information. I think it is because they don’t want to be good corporate citizens. Food World furnished a list the first time we asked them. I don’t know why Food City is doing this.”

Craft said he got no cooperation from Food City when he contacted the chain’s corporate offices. He told the council that Food City’s actions were “high handed” and “I was virtually told to go and take a hike.” Craft said that some of the bottling companies and beer distributors had actually contacted the city before Mrs. Ison had gotten in touch with them to pay the fees with the rest of their annual fees for the year.

Craft said the fees are necessary to offset the wear and tear to city streets by heavy trucks as well as the not infrequent traffic tie-ups that require the Whitesburg Police Department to direct traffic around delivery trucks. Mrs. Ison told Craft that she had gone so far as telling one management person at the Whitesburg Food City store that the city police would impound delivery vehicles if the fees continue to be unpaid and was told to “do what you have to.”

Mayor Craft said the city would explore its legal options to enforce the law, but that he hopes Food City will decide to cooperate first.

“The citizens have to pay to maintain the streets so the delivery trucks can use them,” said Craft. “We have legal options and we are looking into them, but I don’t know why it should have to come to that.”

The manager of Food City’s Whitesburg store was away from the store and unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon. At Mountain Eagle presstime, Food City officials in Abingdon had not responded to a message sent through an assistant manager at the Whitesburg store.

In other business, the council voted to remove a Ford F-750 heavy truck from the overall budget for the city/county wastewater plant and purchase the vehicle separately. Project Engineer Kevin Howard told the council he believed it could withdraw the funds and use them for the vehicle since it was already in the overall budget, but Mayor Craft said that in any case, the city would be paying for the truck for the entire period of the loans taken out for the plant and it would save a good deal of money in interest to either lease the truck or pay for it outright.

Howard also told the council that a second meeting was held on the previous week to determine progress on work on the plant. Howard said that much of the initial concrete pouring had been successfully completed and another pouring on a larger treatment basin should be completed by the end of the month. Howard introduced site foreman Jason Stouter and resident inspector Garrett Morris of Summit Engineering. Morris said two local people have been hired for the project and that more will be hired as needed. The council voted to pay invoices from both Summit Engineering and Smith Contracting, the primary contractor on the wastewater plant.

Howard also reported on a meeting with Kentucky Department of Transportation officials concerning the proposed Maple Street/KY 15 enhancements. Howard said the meeting went well and he came away with the feeling that the project will be funded by the state.

The council also:

• approved a request from the Knights Templar for a roadblock on May 3 from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Money will go to their eye fund.

• discussed an ongoing problem with mop heads, clothing, and other items getting stuck in the John High Lift Station. Kevin Howard told the council it has a provision in the sewer ordinance that allows the city to limit what people put into city sewer lines and it can be enforced. Jeff Kilgore of Veolia Water told the council that workers for Veolia believe the contraband comes from the Letcher County Jail, but Mayor Craft said that unless the city can prove it, it can take no action. Veolia will put a cage to catch debris on the manhole nearest to the jail to try to determine if it is indeed coming from there or elsewhere. Kilgore also reported that it will cost the city $23,090 to pay off an excavator purchased last year. The cost includes the hammer and the bucket.

• voted unanimously to re-appoint Dr. David Narramore to the Board of Commissioners for the Whitesburg Housing Authority, at the request of the Board.

• approved the first reading of Resolution 2008-2, to accept $191,411 from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority for work on the wastewater plant.

• approved the first reading of Ordinance 2008-2, which provides for the issuance and sale of $922,000 in bonds for the wastewater plant, as part of the funding arrangement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency. Both Resolution 2008-2 and Ordinance 2008-2 will undergo a second reading and passage at a special meeting February 27.

• heard that Veolia Water reported producing 16,934,000 gallons of water in January and treating 2,624,000 gallons of sewage. In addition to their regular duties, Veolia workers used their backhoe to remove the roof that blew off the tobacco building on Jenkins Road and unloaded and spread gravel at the city/county skate park.

• heard from Mayor Craft that the city always buys products and services locally whenever possible. Craft was responding to a question from council member Perry Fowler.

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