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Ward says county can afford to pay insurance costs for rural fire squads


Volunteer fire departments in Letcher County will be able to combine their liability insurance into one policy, which would be paid for from the Letcher County Fiscal Court’s annual operating budget in the future.

The announcement came at the fiscal court’s November meeting, when Judge/Executive Jim Ward reported that he had received a quote from the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo), which handles the county’s liability insurance needs. Ward said the amount of the combined policy is $117,000 and will cover all the rural fire departments that have contracts with Letcher County.

The court contracts with every volunteer fire department in Letcher County, with the exception of the City of Whitesburg, which pays for its department with city taxes. Fleming-Neon and Blackey also have separate agreements. The agreement calls for the remaining volunteer departments in the county to provide fire service to homes and businesses in their service areas and to help respond to fires in other communities as well when possible. The court provides some of the funding for the departments, but that has dropped considerably since coal severance tax receipts have been drastically reduced.

The fire department allocation was a $20,000 biannual payment for each department at the time of peak funding from severance taxes and the payments were for operating expenses, including liability insurance. The contributions dropped to $6,000 per year after declines in coal production and it became difficult for the departments to meet insurance costs. In July, the court gave each department an additional $5,000 from coal severance funds. Fleming-Neon and Blackey also have ambulance services and they receive contributions of $2,010.54 per month.

Together, the rural fire departments — Colson, Cumberland River, Gordon, Mayking and Sandlick — were paying more $131,000 for liability insurance annually as separate entities, but by coming under the county’s umbrella the savings are enough to allow the court to pick the cost up. Ward said the budget is stable at this time and the fire departments are much too important to the entire county to allow them to fail.

Ward said that in addition to the vital service of fighting fires, the volunteer departments keep homeowners’ insurance costs lower because insurance rates are calculated by the ISO (Insurance Service Office) by rating the proximity to a fire department and the efficiency and readiness of each department. Ward estimated that without the rural fire departments insurance rates would skyrocket by as much as five or six times the current rate.

In a related matter, the Letcher County Sherriff ’s Department presented the court with the final unmined minerals tax settlement for the year. Deputy Eugene Slone reported that the sheriff ’s department started on March 1, 2018 with $83,096 and collected an additional $67,072. The court will receive $9,986 of that. Ward spoke of past years when the court would regularly receive over $300,000 each year. However, the decline in overall coal production and a new method of accounting for unmined minerals that went into effect last year has drastically reduced the amount going to coal producing counties. As Ward noted, the loss in unmined mineral revenue has been devastating to coal county school systems as well.

The court also voted unanimously to join in a statewide effort to support the modernization of transportation funding methods in Kentucky that is designed to address transportation funding needs throughout the commonwealth. Since the old mechanism was put in place, Kentucky has developed an interconnected multi-modal transportation network that spans the state. In addition to 80,000 miles of roadways, the network also contains 57 airports, eight public riverports, a statewide transit network, and over 14,000 bridges.

The resolution seeks a legislative remedy to modernize the funding in order to generate the necessary revenues to maintain and construct every mode of transportation in the future.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming told Ward commented that it might be time to look at alternatives to funding transportation projects within the county as well. Fleming said he has always been opposed to public/private funding for infrastructure, but the need is so great that it may be time to expand their thinking to allow the county to address critical needs in road repair and construction.

Fleming also asked Ward about the availability of blacktop to take care of a number of badly needed road projects on county roads. Ward said that state paving projects usually take precedence with the asphalt providers and several large projects are still underway. He said as soon as the state’s needs are met, counties will start getting asphalt as long as the weather allows for blacktopping. Blacktop doesn’t set up well in freezing temperatures.

Ward also reported that a solution to the problems with pagers for emergency services might have been solved. Ward said that hand held radios with voice-over paging have worked well in remote areas of the county. He said the entire system will work much better than the alphanumeric pagers and the hand-held radios are less expensive as well.

Members of the newly elected fiscal court attended the meeting, as the current court will hold its last meeting in December with the exception of Judge/ Executive-Elect Terry Adams, who currently serves as District Two Magistrate. The new court will be sworn in at the first meeting of the New Year in January.

In other business, the court voted unanimously to appoint former board member Jeanette Ladd of Cromona to serve on the Letcher County Library District Board of Trustees. Ladd will fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Kathy Hughes. Her term will expire on July 7, 2021.

The court also voted unanimously to approve adding the names of two Letcher County servicemen to the memorial board at Blackey. They are Signalman II Robert Campbell, Underwater Demolition Team, United States Navy, and Private First Class Elijah B. Dixon, United States Army, who was awarded three Bronze Stars.

District Four Magistrate Keith Adams told the court that a historical memorial sign has been approved and paid for by donations to commemorate the 1966 deaths of five young men killed in a tragic car crash at the Twin Bridges on KY Highway 7 near Letcher.

The accident occurred on March 23, 1966. Four of the young men were students at Letcher High School. The fifth had graduated from the school the previous year. The boys, who were returning from a movie, were Don Crase, George Dixon, Jerry Lee Caudill, Douglas Ison, and Donald Halcomb.

Bank Balances for County Agencies as of October 31:

• General Fund: $223,577.88

• Road and Bridge Fund: $1,061,256.52

• Jail Fund: $108,274.90

• LGEA Fund: $854,394.82

• Senior Citizens Fund: $227.79

• Forestry Fund: $20,111.99

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Depreciation Reserve: $25,639.07

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Debt Service: $283,198.86

Total of all funds : $2,576,681.83

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