Letcher County moved one step closer to a $1.8 million grant for broadband Internet in Linefork.
Letcher County Broadband Board Member Roland Brown told the Letcher Fiscal Court on Monday that the Kentucky Department of Local Government has approved the application to the Appalachian Regional Commission for a Power Grant. Brown said the step is very important in getting a grant to ARC approved and that state officials told the board the grant was solid.
Brown said the grant would also cover repairs to the Campbell’s Branch Community Center. Among the repairs would be a new roof, several rehabilitated classrooms, and a new floor. This would allow the board to participate as a Teleworks Hub with TeleworksUSA, an ongoing partnership between SOAR (Save Our Appalachian Region), and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP). The program seeks to boost opportunities for eastern Kentucky jobseekers in the digital economy. Brown said the county has to transition away from depending on a single-issue economy like coal mining.
According to a SOAR Impact Report, more than 1,900 digital jobs have been created in eastern Kentucky since 2015, including more than 600 in 2018 alone. Teleworks identifies and develops legitimate remote-work job opportunities with national and global companies. It operates eight Teleworks hubs in eight eastern Kentucky counties, which provide on-site services, customized prep workshops, and telework job placement opportunities to prospective teleworkers.
Since the opening of the Booneville Teleworks Hub in 2016, more than 220 people have landed new Internet-based jobs in Owsley County, the poorest county in Kentucky. In 2018, the Booneville Hub created 81 jobs, with more than $1.8 million in new wages. These jobs include customer service, tech support, and other services that can be performed from home via a high-speed broadband connection.
Many of the jobs with which Teleworks helps to connect prospective employers result from opportunities that have been relayed to the agency by a number of Teleworks USA’s employer partners, including KellyCOnnect, Conduent, Sykes, and others. The agency continues to add new companies to its family of remote employer partners who can provide new digital economy job opportunities to the eastern Kentucky workforce.
At a Teleworks USA workshop in April 2018, representatives from Amazon, BroadPath Healthcare Solutions, Delegate Solutions, FlexJobs, Hilton Hotels, and Williams-Sonoma visited four of the eight Teleworks locations. The sites in Kentucky were in Annville in Jackson County, Harlan, Hazard, and Pike County. Brown also told the court the Broadband Board is pursuing other funding opportunities and is working with the Center for Rural Development in Somerset on acquiring technical assistance grants.
Also at the court meeting Monday night, both Letcher County Sheriff Mickey Stines and County Road Foreman Jason Back reported problems with old worn-out vehicles, and both predicted problems from them in the near future.
While giving his 90- day report, Sheriff Stines presented the court with a check for $11,601.21 to repay the court for the shortterm loan it made to the department to get it going this year until tax revenues started coming in. Stines said the accounting system in Kentucky that requires sheriff ’s departments to begin the year with a zero balance is one of the big problems the department faces, and because he was newly elected, there were no carryovers of any kind.
Stines asked the court to consider returning the check he had given it to the sheriff ’s department. He said the auditors had told him the department wasn’t required to pay the money back, but he felt it was incumbent on him to repay it. However, he said the department has several police cruisers with well over 100,000 miles each and even the newest ones have at least 45,000 miles.
Stines said he plans to hire two deputies and have them on the road by summer to fill badly needed holes in the department’s ability to patrol the county. But he said in order to do that, the department will need at least one new cruiser and ideally two. He added that when he said new, he really meant used, but newer than the ones he has now. The court voted four to one to give the $11,601.21 check back to Stines, with Judge/ Executive Terry Adams casting the lone no vote.
Road Foreman Jason Back told the court he is facing the same situation with sanitation trucks and several other county vehicles. He said the sanitation trucks are “running on borrowed time,” and that he is certain there will be a major breakdown sooner, rather than later.
In other business, Eva Collins of George Brown Hollow told the court that she has tried to get a water line run to her home but hasn’t been able to get it done. Collins said she lives about a quarter mile from the road where water lines run, but has been unable to get lines extended to her home. Judge Adams said he isn’t sure if the lines in that area are owned by the county or the City of Whitesburg, and several court members suggested she attend the April meeting of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District Board of Directors and ask who owns the lines.
Jerry Collins of Millstone had several complaints but his primary concerns centered on garbage along the highways and garbage that falls off trucks operated by private vehicles taking trash to the transfer station at Millstone. Collins said the private contractors do not cover their truckbeds with tarps and there is a constant influx of trash spilled along the road. He said he and other volunteers in Millstone have picked up 126 bags of trash since January 1.
Collins complained about herbicides sprayed along highways by the Kentucky Department of Highways. Collins, who served in Vietnam, said he has been exposed to enough Agent Orange, and he doesn’t want any more. He said the spraying also creates erosion because it kills everything on hillsides.
Collins asked if salvage yards are supposed to have fences around them according to Kentucky law, and said there are still campaign signs left out from the November election. He said a silt pond in Millstone has much more water than it was built to contain, and added that there is no culvert or other drainage to relieve the pressure.
Michael Blair, of Craces Branch, who works as a deputy sheriff in Knott County, told the court he is working to obtain a monument to honor law enforcement officers throughout the county who have been killed in the line of duty. Blair said he has an estimate of between $4,000 and $6,000 for a monument that will hold 25 names. He told the court he is aware of its financial constraints, but asked it to give the okay to the project. He said he hopes to place it on the grounds of the Letcher County Veteran’s Museum in Whitesburg, and it will be funded by donations. Anyone interested can call him at (606) 821-5984, or call the Letcher County Judge/ Executive’s office. Judge Adams said he thinks it is a great project and the court agreed. County Attorney Jamie Hatton said the court does not need to vote on the issue.
First District Magistrate Jack Banks gave a preliminary jail report from the newly appointed jail committee. He said that Jailer Bert Slone is doing an excellent job and is addressing jail needs, including air conditioning and lighting repairs, and has installed new cameras in the jail. Banks said the jail is still overcrowded. Judge Adams said the county is going to make an old Senior Citizens van available to the jail to transport inmates to do outdoor work in the county. District Four Magistrate William “Cheddy” Smith praised the jailers and inmates for the good work inmates have done along county roads and in other areas.
The court voted to approve a resolution to accept funding from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Department of Rural and Secondary Roads. Judge Adams said the funding will come in three parts, with the initial 60 percent installment of the $1,186,783.03 million that was allotted to Letcher County. The first installment will be $690,708.00. The rest will come in two other payments, the second for 30 percent, and the remainder in a third payment. The county agreed to keep three percent of the apportionment as an emergency fund.
The court voted to approve to issue a request for proposals for telephone and Internet service for the courthouse, the county road department, and the Letcher County Recreation Center. Judge Adams said he is sure the county can get a better rate than it is currently paying and Roland Brown suggested the court might want to look into a wireless system with a booster on Pine Mountain to connect the highway garage.
Judge Adams read a proclamation stating that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Adams also said it is time to renew the contract for a Code Red Calling System that allows the county to place phone calls to selected areas to inform citizens of emergency situations. Adams said the Board of Directors of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District has agreed to pay half the cost because it uses the system to report water outages. Each portion will amount to $2,750.
Bank balances for county agencies as of March 31
• General Fund: $790,567.85
• Road and Bridge Fund: $852,245.34
• Jail Fund: $79,270.98
• LGEA Fund: $477,191.42
• Senior Citizens Fund: $228.22
• Forestry Fund: $18,364.20
Total of all funds : $2,217,868.01