Whitesburg Mayor James W. Craft went on record Tuesday night in support of the June 26 voter referendum to extend alcohol sales in the city.
Craft said that if the referendum fails he is afraid some of the restaurants doing business in the city will be forced to shut down entirely or quit selling alcoholic drinks because they can’t meet current requirements that 70 percent of their profits come from the sale of food.
Craft said that if the new referendum is approved he would like the Whitesburg City Council to change the rules so that restaurants could continue to operate if they earn 50 percent of their income from the sale of food.
Tuesday night’s city council meeting marked the first time the subject of the referendum has come up in a public meeting. Craft addressed the issue after District One Magistrate Bobby Howard, who represents the Whitesburg area on the Letcher Fiscal Court, told the council he opposes the measure.
Craft told Howard he supports passing the measure and said they will have to agree to disagree, adding that whatever the outcome of the special election they will still remain friends.
“I disagree with what you are saying,” said Craft. “But I will defend your right to the death your right to say it. The statute we now have has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city, without which we couldn’t have done most of what we’ve done. Some of the restaurants are having a hard time meeting that (the current requirement). I’m interested in lowering it to 50/50. The rest is up to the council but my main concern is getting the ratio lowered.”
Craft also announced that the city’s Independence Day Celebration this year will feature soul music legend Percy Sledge and said the show will be paid for by taxes the city collects from alcohol sales.
The council voted to adopt the original alcohol sales ordinance in May 2007 after voters approved the original issue in a special election. Since that time, the city has used tax receipts from alcohol sales to fund a number of purchases including the city-wide public address system used on holidays and special occasions, Christmas decorations in 2008, the addition of $60,000 in revenue to the general fund in 2008 for swimming pool and park repairs as well as equipment costs, 20 percent of the costs for the James Bates Pedestrian Bridge, $20,000 for dressing room improvements at the City Park (out of $83,000 added to the city budget in 2009), a new radio system with11 radios and repeaters to make it easier for Whitesburg City Police Officers to communicate with the Kentucky State Police at Hazard, and the city’s annual July 4 celebrations.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to increase the cost of city stickers from $7.50 for a single sticker to $8 and from $12 for two (in one family) to $15. Mayor Craft made the proposal to the council and said the slight increase in is much preferable to a payroll tax, which would be the other alternative. Craft said people who work in the city should be willing to pay their fair share for the services provided by the city and added that police protection, wear and tear on city streets, and other city services are equally shared by those who work in the city but live outside city limits and the citizens of Whitesburg.
“The city is entitled to be compensated (for its services),” said Craft. “If participation is not significant, I will propose a payroll tax.”
City stickers will go on sale June 15 at City Hall and will be required by July 1. The council also voted to raise the fine for noncompliance from $50 to $60.
The council got good news in the form of a request from John Foley and Marty Cornett of Pine Mountain Lumber to extend the current lease held by the lumber company on city property for two consecutive 20-year periods.
Craft said the current lease has seven years left, after which Pine Mountain Lumber proposes that the current rent of $1,500 per month will be doubled and then doubled again at the end of the first 20-year lease.
Foley told the council that Pine Mountain Lumber has enjoyed a very good relationship with the city during 17 years the company has been located at its present location. Foley said Pine Mountain Lumber has become the largest hardwood producer in the state. He said the firm has engaged in several capital projects that have expanded operations and created jobs, including 30 this year.
The council approved the lease extensions, and Craft praised Pine Mountain Lumber as being an excellent corporate citizen.
Craft also read a letter from Whitesburg dentist Dr. Kevin Roark praising Whitesburg Fire Chief Gary Mullins for detecting a gas leak in a nearby restaurant. Roark said he had been plagued by odors in his office in the Parkway Plaza Shopping Center, but had dismissed it as sewer odors. But in April one of his patients said it smelled like propane gas and Roark called the fire department.
Mullins determined the leak was in the stove at the restaurant, saving both businesses from a possible disaster.
In other business, the council approved maps prepared by Letcher County Surveyor Richard Hall for the purpose of annexing the area from Whitco to just past the Parkway Motel. Hall said he didn’t extend the mapping any further because several people who live just past the mapped area had said they do not wish to be annexed. Craft said all the people in the area included in the maps have expressed a desire to join the city.
Councilman John Williams said the cost difference in fire insurance between residents of the city and those outside city limits would more than make up for the cost of city taxes.
Kevin Howard of Summitt Engineering reported that the city has enough funds provided by the state legislature to complete about half the proposed water line improvement project in the Upper Bottom neighborhood. Howard said the project is designed to replace old lines on Texas Avenue (now completed), Kentucky Avenue, Cornelia Avenue, and Frazier Avenue with new larger ones and to move the water lines so they won’t interfere with repairs to sewer lines which currently lie directly below them. The council voted to complete Phase I, which will replace all the lines on Kentucky Avenue and part of Cornelia Avenue and pay for repaving the streets.
Whitesburg Dentist Dr. David Narramore, chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, reported on the planned Whitesburg Streetscape Project and told the council that after discussions with one of its funders, the Brushy Fork Institute in Berea, the commission has decided to go ahead with the first step, the Street Art Project.
Letcher County artist Doug Adams, who is working with the commission, told the council the first step would be to add artwork to a building owned by Whitesburg physician Dr. John Pellegrini. Adams said the artwork will cover several windows with aluminum relief paintings.
Narramore told the council that a planned traffi c circle for the city will have to wait for approval from the state Transportation Cabinet and be included in the state’s Six-Year Road Plan. That project awaits funding as well.
Narramore added that Elaine Wilson of the Kentucky Tourism Cabinet will be in Whitesburg at the Letcher County Extension Office on June 20 to present the city with a Town/Trail Designation, meaning the city now qualifies as a trail head for hiking and other trails.