While the numbers are uncertain, the Letcher County Fiscal Court still has a massive deficit that must be addressed.
At the October court meeting, Judge/Executive Jim Ward told The Mountain Eagle that a special called meeting to address the defi- cit is still in his plans, but County Treasurer Phillip Hampton said that the actual amount is uncertain. He said the next round of mineral severance tax checks will shed some light on the matter, and he predicted that the county will be down by a considerable margin.
Hampton told the court he remembers the county receiving quarterly severance checks for as much as $1.6 million, but Judge Ward said the check for last quarter was for about $80,000. Ward added that the check for the second quarter of last year was for $185,000. He said the county has managed, but the court must do something soon, and added that a recent Kentucky River Area Development District (KRADD) meeting he was told that the coming quarter will be worse than the last, and the recent closing of Enterprise Coal will show in the coming check.
Hampton said the county’s finances will depend heavily on how severe the coming weather is and how much the county must spend on road-clearing operations. Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming added that property tax bills have been sent out, which should help. Hampton told the court that on a more positive note, Letcher County had been proactive in cutting spending and is in better shape than some surrounding counties. Ward replied that adjustments in the Sanitation and Senior Citizens programs have helped, and said the county has not filled positions lost to attrition (retirement, etc.) since last year.
In other business, Magistrate Fleming made a motion that the court begin the process to seek funding to build a water treatment plant on the Cumberland River side of Pine Mountain, to provide drinking water to the residents there. Fleming referred to years of fruitless efforts to purchase water from the Wise County (Va.) Water District, and water districts in Harlan County, and said the people in the Cumberland River area have waited long enough. Judge Ward also told the court KRADD has made funding the project a priority as well.
At the August meeting of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District, Alan Bowman of Bell Engineering reported that a preliminary layout and a cost estimate have been established for Phase IV of the Cumberland River Water Project, that includes the construction of a 10-million gallon per day water plant in the vicinity of the Letcher/Harlan county line to supply Cumberland River residents. Applications for funding are being submitted to the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority (KIA) and a KIA profile is being submitted to KRADD for inclusion to the KIA statewide database. U.S. Fifth District Congressman Hal Rogers became interested in the water situation on Cumberland River several years ago, and his office is also coordinating efforts to fund the plant.
Letcher County Tourism Commission Chairman David Narramore introduced Rita Robinette of Forsythe Consulting L.L.C., who was to conduct a tourism town hall meeting at the Pine Mountain Grill on Tuesday, October 18. The study will assess the county’s cultural and natural tourism resources and initiate the planning process for sustainable tourism development.
Robinette told the court that the state is willing to make an investment to support tourism efforts when Magistrate Fleming asked if there was “real money” backing the effort, saying tourism is seen as part of an effort to create jobs and improve the quality of life for Kentuckians. She added that if tourists do come to Letcher County, they will need restaurants, hotels, and other places for them to spend their money.
In other tourism-related business, Kyle Smith of the tourism commission asked the court to allow the commission to establish its own checking account, separate from the judge’s office, in order to expedite finances and to allow the tourism commission to have a more realistic view of the financial picture. Smith said he will be happy to provide a monthly report on the commission’s finances to the court. County Treasurer Phillip Hampton was enthusiastic about the proposal and said he had advocated to allow the commission to handle its own finances for years, rather than running them through the court. Smith said that at present, when the commission gets a bill, it must submit it to the court and wait for it to be voted on before paying it, and that the tourism commission often doesn’t have current financial information available to know where it stands.
Magistrate Fleming said he has no problem with the idea, but added that he would like for the court to maintain oversight over funds allocated directly from the county. Smith said that now, the only real oversight the court exercises is to approve the tourism budget, and County Attorney Jamie Hatton said that the tourism commission is mostly funded by the hotel tax, which is its to spend as it wishes. He said since coal severance funds have dried up, the court’s only function is to collect the tax and to act as a pass-through for the money by collecting it and depositing it in the commission’s account. Finance Officer Doris Jean Frazier added that the court will still have jurisdiction over the way any county funds allocated for tourism are spent. Hatton said he will need to draft an ordinance in order to make the change and the court voted five to one to allow him to proceed, with Second District Magistrate Terry Adams casting the only no vote.
Bill Meade, of Kingscreek, told the court that some of the equipment in the parks at Kingscreek and Gordon is failing and that splits in supports pose a real danger to children playing on them. He said that it is his understanding that the equipment has a lifetime warranty, and asked the court to take care of the matter. Judge Ward said he will ask Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto to contact the manufacturer and get it to make the repairs, and County Attorney Hatton said that in the past, the manufacturers have made repairs when they were contacted.
In other court business:
• The court voted unanimously to declare October 21 as Unity Day, with the theme, “Unite Against Bullying” in Letcher County.
• Emergency Management Director Paul Miles asked the court to approve a Statement of Affiliation with the state Department of Emergency Management that allows the state to pay the costs of workmen’s compensation for emergency workers and volunteers.
• The court approved the second reading of ordinances setting the speed limit for Kelly Drive and Flower Road at 10 miles per hour.
• The court voted to receive a van from the Leslie Knott Letcher Perry Community Action Council and to pass it on to the Regional Animal Shelter to provide transportation for injured animals and to spay and neuter clinics.
• The court voted to establish a board of directors to direct efforts to bring broadband Internet connections to the county.
• The court voted unanimously to proclaim the week of October 16–22 as Retired Teachers Appreciation Week.
• The court voted to add Col. Billy F. Caudill to the Blackey Veterans Memorial Board. Caudill served in the U.S. Army and earned a Bronze Star.
Bank balances for county agencies as of October 12:
• General Fund $223,565.93
• Road and Bridge Fund $756,182.51
• Jail Fund $127,213.47
• LGEA Fund $422,652.12
• Senior Citizens Fund $100,428.96
• Forestry Fund $16,507.66
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Depreciation Reserve $188,395.71
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Debt Service $87,946.40