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Officials criticize state’s decision to kill drug court

State funding will be discontinued for the Letcher County Drug Court after July 1, rather than in January 2011 as reported at the May meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court. At that meeting, the fiscal court had voted to continue to fund the project for the remainder of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, but said it would have to seek additional funding to continue it further.

County Attorney Harold Bolling told the court at its June meeting that Program Coordinator Kellie Niece had decided to take another position since her job would likely be discontinued after the funding the court had voted to provide ran out. Because of Niece’s decision, the state Administrative Office of the Courts has decided to cut funding to the program immediately.

Bolling said he still believes the program has tremendous importance to the county in the area of crime prevention as well as in keeping young people out of jail and keeping jail costs lower. He said since the state will no longer fund the Drug Court after July 1, it will also have no authority over it and if the county could find a way to continue the funding, it could run the program itself. Bolling said he hopes to work with several industries and corporations in Letcher County to obtain funding and to look to other outside sources wherever they are available.

“Since no state funding is available, we can run it simply as the Letcher County Drug Court,” said Bolling. “We will have to improvise and create some new rules, but the cost of continuing the courts will be off set by savings in the cost of detention for the off enders. I will look for funding if the board and the committee want to go on. “

County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he would like to see the program continue and that he was only too aware of the cost of incarcerating juveniles. Ward said he would make every effort to find enough money to continue the program, but he also expressed his frustration with the state for its refusal to continue funding such an important program. Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming joined him in condemning the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“Shame on the state for this,” said Fleming.

“Exactly right,” said Ward. “If we can’t help them (young drug offenders) then we have to jail them. It costs a lot more to do that. I just get really aggravated with the state.”

In other business, construction will begin sooner rather than later on the Payne Gap Water Project and will continue as long as a $630,000 appropriation from the state holds out. Magistrate Fleming asked the court to release funds already allocated for the project so work can begin while waiting for funding from Abandoned Mine Lands to be released.

Fleming told the court he had spoken with AML representatives earlier that day and had been told that AML has determined it will fund the entire Payne Gap project, which will run water lines from the Gateway Industrial Park in Jenkins all the way to Kona and Mayking, where they will connect with county lines already in place. However, Fleming said he was told AML funds may not be available for as long as two to three years so it would be important to serve as many people as possible in the upper region of Payne Gap with the funds on hand.

The project was placed under the jurisdiction of the City of Jenkins last year at Fleming’s request to expedite the work and is in the final stages of planning. Several court members raised questions about releasing the funds. Third District Magistrate Codell Gibson sought assurances that the $630,000 would not be taken from the Pert Creek/Cram Creek/ Pine Creek Project and Ward told Fleming the purpose of holding on to the money had originally been to ensure the project could be completed even if AML chose not to fund the entire scope of work. Second District Magistrate Archie Banks asked why the court should release the funding, which he said would account for about 10 percent of the estimated $6 million project, when the entire amount will be paid by AML.

Fleming answered all three questions, however, and the court voted unanimously to release the funds. Fleming and Ward both assured Gibson that the $630,000 had been earmarked in the state budget specifically for the Payne Gap Project and could not be used for anything else. Fleming also told Gibson the AML representatives who spoke to him said the Pert Creek Project and others he was concerned about are next on AML’s funding list and will be funded before the Payne Gap Project. Ward told Fleming his only concern about releasing the money is if AML does not fund the entire project, but Fleming assured him that representatives from AML told him they have already decided to fund the project in its entirety and Ward told Magistrate Banks if the $630,000 is not used on the Payne Gap Project, it would just “sit there until the state decides to take it back.”

The court voted unanimously to approve its own $8,556,902 budget for Fiscal Year 2010-2011 and to approve the budgets of a number of county agencies, with the exception of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District and the Local Government Economic Assistance budgets. Neither was submitted for the court’s approval. Approved budgets are: Letcher County Public Health Taxing Fund (LC Health Dept.) $785,327.91 against $1,401,000.00 total revenue; Letcher County Cooperative Extension Service, $700,776 against a net income of $470,776 plus a carryover of $230,000; the Letcher County Conservation District, $101,500 against revenue of $101,500; the Letcher County Public Library District, $1,293,476 against revenues of $1,293,476; Kentucky River Area Development District, $4,694,819 against revenues of $4,694,819; and the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority, $165,663, against revenues of $165,663.

The court also voted to try a new approach in dealing with the ongoing problem of blighted and deteriorated housing. Magistrate Fleming told the court there are a number of houses in McRoberts in such a state of deterioration that the situation is critical. Fleming said if the buildings aren’t removed soon, they will collapse and probably fall into the road. Magistrate Banks told the court he had bypassed taking legal action by obtaining the permission of the owners of several houses in the Yonts Fork/Grassy area. Banks said one house had actually collapsed and he had spoken to the woman who owned it and had received her permission to demolish it and while he had a crew, he got with several other owners and got their permission as well. Banks said his crew took down seven houses in one day.

Banks told the court that with the exception of houses where the ownership is in question or where the heirs cannot be located, it is better to bypass taking legal action and to speak directly to the owners. He said that in many cases they cannot afford the cost of demolition but are glad to get the houses torn down.

“We will do the process (court action, liens, etc.) if we have to,” said Banks. “But it’s best to work with the owners. Most of them can’t afford to tear them down themselves. We did seven in four hours in Yonts Fork and Grassy.”

Judge Ward said he would approach several companies, including Premier Elkhorn Coal and at least two gas companies, who have cooperated with the county in the past, and ask for their help in taking houses down and removing them as soon as the court can meet with owners and get their permission. Ward said the county Blighted and Deteriorated Property Commission should redouble its efforts to either locate heirs and absentee owners or to determine they are impossible to locate so the court can begin legal action to take the property and demolish houses that threaten public safety.

“We don’t want to put liens on property,” said Ward. “But we will if we have to.”

In other business that came before the court:

• Judge Ward opened the meeting by announcing that a storm just before the meeting time had left approximately 500 people in Letcher County without electricity. Magistrate Banks commented that such outages are becoming an everyday thing.

• Jessica Brown of the Mud Runners ATV Club asked for an update on the countywide allterrain vehicle trails and was told the work is ongoing. Ward said the trails are being laid out with rescue possibilities in mind so they are wide enough for a rescue vehicle if necessary. He also said that several helicopter landing sites are being developed too. Brown volunteered her club’s services and Ward said they could help with sign placement.

• The court voted unanimously to accept three grants for Letcher County Search and Rescue. Director Paul Miles told the court it could realize over $65,000 in grants for matching funds of around $13,000. Funds will go to purchase a mobile radio tower that extends to 85 feet and can be used to keep 911 and county radio services operating in the event of an emergency that would knock them out, as well as for back-up if the county has a dead spot in service. Other purchases will include an inflatable boat with aluminum bottom and a 25-horsepower motor for river search and rescue and a Kawasaki rescueequipped all-terrain vehicle from Andy’s Honda. Miles said the price quoted by the Hazard dealership was below the state contract and it is fully equipped. Miles also told the court that the Floyd County Search and Rescue Squad has donated a second boat and is working with the Letcher County squad in training. He said water rescue and high altitude are the next targets for certification for Letcher County Search and Rescue.

• The court voted to accept a right-of-way to a cemetery at Hallie from the Pratt family. Margaret Pratt told the court her family would give the county enough property to construct a bridge across the river at Linefork and a right-of-way to the cemetery. She said there is a walking bridge but that vehicles carrying coffi ns have to drive through the creek to the cemetery, which has more than 80 graves representing a number of families.

• County Surveyor Richard Hall recommended adding Reel View Drive to the county road plan. The court voted to set a 15 mile per hour speed limit for Grassy Fork, Low Gap Branch, and Yonts Fork, all of which were recommended by Hall.

• The court voted unanimously to accept the second reading of an ordinance to provide regulation of sexually related businesses and their employees for the county. The first reading was conducted at the April court meeting.

• The court voted unanimously to name the following bridges and roads in honor of Letcher County veterans: the 5th Street Railroad bridge on KY 15 for Staff Sgt. Archie Craft; the bridge at the Old Fountain at Hemphill for Sgt. First Class Luther J. Potter; the first bridge at the righthand fork of Millstone for Master Chief Petty Officer Gregory D. McHone; Dinah Blair Road for PFC Kyle H. Flanary Sr., Tech Sgt. Paul W. Flanary, Sgt. Kyle H. Flanary Jr., and Glen Flanary, the first bridge after Breeding’s Plumbing and Electric on KY 15 for Sgt. Donnie Wayne Caudill, the bridge on Highway 1103 at the mouth of Ingram’s Creek for SP4 Albert Jones, and the road at Elderberry Drive for SP5 Darius G. Wright.

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