One out of 27 people in Letcher County will die as a result of drug use this year, according to Letcher County Coroner Marty Baker. Speaking in support of the county recreation center at the February meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court, Baker said the death toll from drug abuse is terrible, but that the rec center provides a positive alternative for young people and gives them constructive activities and a clean healthy place to get together with their friends and take part in activities that will keep them off the roads.
Baker also told the court that he and his family spend most evenings at the center and several young people have approached him and asked for his help in turning their lives around through physical activity.
“Some people don’t care if they live till tomorrow as long as they get drugs,” said Baker. “We need to change their mindset toward a healthy lifestyle. I’m a strong advocate of the rec center and couldn’t agree with Dr. (Van) Breeding more. Being healthy makes you want to live.”
Baker said the statistics on drug deaths in Letcher County are stunning, with 72 deaths that came as the direct result of drug abuse in 2012 and added that doesn’t include hundreds of near misses, overdoses, suicide attempts, or car wrecks. Baker said the statistics have been compiled by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Center and Morehead State University.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who has been a vocal critic of the financial aspects of the center, told Baker that he had not planned to revisit the topic again until he heard comments made by Judge/ Executive Jim Ward on the “Round Table” on WXKQ radio. Fleming said that during the radio show in which Ward defended the recreation center, Ward had accused him of not presenting some facts about the center honestly and added that in a study conducted by the Kentucky Association of Counties, Letcher County has actually dropped in the standings of what is the least healthy county in Kentucky from 109 in 2010 to 113 at present.
Fleming said that his objection is to the amount the center takes out of the county’s coal severance tax funds and asked the court to use a $300,000 emergency fund that was set aside in case the center had trouble meeting budget to pay down the principal and to use the profits made by the center for the same purpose. He made a motion to that effect and to require the judge’s office to put together a business plan for the center. The motion failed by a vote of three to two with Judge Ward, Third District Magistrate Codell Gibson, and First District Magistrate Bobby Howard voting no. Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams abstained and Fleming and Second District Magistrate Terry Adams voted yes.
Judge Ward responded to Fleming’s accusation that Ward had said he wasn’t telling the truth, and said he had not said Fleming was lying but had said instead that the county would not have to raise taxes to pay for the center. Ward said he has been working with state legislators to try to make sure a higher portion of coal severance tax receipts are returned to coal-producing counties. Both Ward and Fleming gave several examples of coal severance tax returns being used to fund projects in the Bluegrass region, and Ward said that a new plan under consideration will see some improvement in coal severance taxes being returned to the counties that actually produce coal.
Ward also said he does not object to a business plan for the center but that using the $300,000 might cause other money to come out of the budget in case of an emergency. He added that much of the same work that would be done in a business plan has already been done in budgets. Fleming said he does not see why anyone would object to doing a business plan and added that every bit of funding that can be applied to the principal of the loan will make a significant long term reduction in interest fees in the 30-year life of the loan.
In other business, Letcher Fire Chief Gary Rogers accused the Gordon Fire Department of refusing to answer pages and told the Letcher Fiscal Court that the Letcher Department has made numerous trips to a home that sits near the parking lot of the Gordon Fire Department just to help an elderly woman who has fallen out of her chair because the Gordon Department does not respond. Rogers declined to identify the Gordon Department by name, but told court members they knew who he was talking about. Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams made the identification when he moved to ask representatives of the Gordon Fire Department to come to the next court meeting to explain themselves.
Rogers also told the court that most of the county’s first responders, including police, fire departments, and rescue services, will participate in a mock school bus disaster on Thursday February 21, at the Sandlick Fire Department. Rogers said a school bus is already turned over on its side at Sandlick and the Thursday drill will serve as the practice site for first responders to act in response to a bus emergency.
Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb submitted the Sheriff ’s Final 2012 Budget Annual Statement of Excess Fees. The sheriff’s office had gross receipts of $888,646.60 against total disbursements of $884.997.14 for an excess, pending audit, of $3,649.46. Webb also said that radio communication in the county is sometimes impossible for his deputies and that he fears that one may be caught out in an dangerous situation without backup due to poor com- munications.
Magistrate Fleming asked Webb about the possibility of resource officers for the Jenkins Independent Schools and Webb said he is in the process of negotiating with Jenkins for stationing officers in Jenkins schools. The stumbling block is Jenkins’ ability to pay the deputies salaries. Fleming said that in light of recent events, he believes it is important that sworn officers be in every school.
David Narramore, chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, asked the court to adopt a resolution authorizing the use of the old county wagon road from the top of Pine Mountain to Limestone Drive’s intersection with US 119 as the initial section of The Pine Mountain Trail System.
In other business:
• The court unanimously approved Judge Ward to sign all necessary documents when the deed from Alpha Coal comes back for the animal shelter property.
• The court unanimously approved Summit Engineering of Pikeville as project engineer for the Craft’s Colly Sewer Project.
• The court unanimously approved a resolution requested by Terry Adams to affirm support of the Second Amendment.
• Magistrate Fleming asked the court to begin work on a resolution to condemn the current statesponsored health insurance plan. Fleming said the current program, with three competing companies, is damaging hospitals and clinics. Fleming said the pay rates are insufficient and different providers take different insurance plans, which puts a burden on the poor.
• The court heard the first reading of an ordinance to set speed limits for Wintergreen Drive and George B. Branch at 10 miles per hour and Daffodil Lane at 15 miles per hour.
• The court voted to name Highway 588 west from the Junction with 160 to mile point 11.197 for Seaman First Class Le Gentry, U.S. Navy, and Highway 2034 at Craft’s Colly to mile point 4.867 for Verlon (Red) Hall, U.S. Army, World War II.