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Water bills going up in Jenkins

Water customers in the City of Jenkins will soon see a slight increase in their monthly bills.

The Jenkins City Council voted unanimously this week to raise water rates by 25 cents for the first thousand gallons used by a customer. The rate increase is the result of an audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency as part of the conditions for a loan to renovate city water lines.

The city has suff ered exceptionally high losses of treated water through a series of water lines that date back to 1912, when the city was built. Many of the old lines are still connected to the city water system and no one actually knows where they go or, in many instances, where they are. The Water Line Renovation Project is designed to completely cut off all old lines and replace the entire system with new water lines. The overall new rate of $13.75 per 1,000 gallon rate will apply to everyone and will remove a disparity in billing for customers who have only water service due to the city’s inability to run sewer lines to their homes.

Camden resident Mike Chavis told the council he had taken city water reports generated during the last year and found the city averages losing 48 percent of the treated water it produces each year. At a cost of $2.09 per thousand gallons treated water, Chavis said the broken lines cost the city $214,000 last year. Chavis said his finding does not include known sources of water loss including line breaks and use in the water and sewer plants.

Chavis also presented the council with information taken from the website www.City-Data.com, which he said shows the city is losing population. According to Chavis, the city’s 2008 population on City-Data. com was 2,244, down by 6.5 percent from 2000. He said a further check revealed that the population for the Jenkins Zip Code (41537) in 2008 was 4,618, down from 4,925 in 2000.

The 2010 Census will provide an official population figure for Jenkins and the rest of the country and Mayor Charles Dixon urged everyone to participate. Dixon emphasized the noninvasive nature of the 2010 census, pointing out that the form does not ask for a Social Security number and can be completed in a matter of minutes. It asks for the name, race and age of people living in a household and for a telephone number in case the Census Bureau needs to clarify an answer.

Mayor Dixon said the state lost the old Sixth Congressional District because 10 percent of the people in Kentucky did not complete census forms for the 1990 census. Dixon emphasized the importance of participation, saying that federal funding is determined by the census and people must be counted in order for cities, counties, and states to get everything to which they are entitled.

The council received its annual audit for 2009 from accountant Rodney Welch of Lexington and found once again the city is losing money on solid waste and sewer. Welch recommended the council take action to fix the deficit in both areas. Mayor Dixon proposed increases in sanitation fees last year to allow the department to break even, but was voted down.

“You need to do something about solid waste,” said Welch. “You are spending $98,000 in salaries and $31,000 in insurance and your revenue is $210,000. Expenses have surpassed income. I don’t know if this is a trend that can be reversed. It continues to lose money.”

Welch said the second largest cost to sanitation is landfill fees at $75,328 and recommended raising fees. Council member Terry Braddock said if people will simply recycle, a good deal of that cost can be eliminated and Rick Damron agreed, but said recycling only has the potential to reduce costs if it is implemented. Recycling has been a constant theme from Mayor Dixon since he took office, but it continues to lag in Jenkins.

Welch said overall, the city is in pretty good shape with an overall deficit of $330,000, which resulted from having to return a previous allocation of $470,000 to the state. The $470,000 loss is the result of funds that were allocated for the development of a welcome center on US 23 at Pound Gap. The project never got off the ground and the time limit ran out on the money. However, the funds will be returned to the county and will come to Jenkins through the Letcher County Fiscal Court. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who represents Jenkins on the court, guided the money back to the city for water projects. Welch said the city could have been over $100,000 to the good if not for the return of the welcome center funds.

Welch also pointed to $27,434 in delinquent taxes. Dixon said the city has been very aggressive in trying to recover those taxes and City Attorney Randall Tackett has taken a number of people to court to recoup them, but there are a lot of difficulties in the process. He said the city has placed liens on property where it has been unable to locate the actual owner, which will block the sale of the property. Welch told the council that in Lexington, delinquent tax bills are sold for collection by private agencies. Dixon replied that county taxes have been sold for several years in Letcher County and said he had been contacted by a group that buys bad taxes, but had not heard any more from them. He said he would be happy to sell the taxes to recover whatever he can for the city.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve the second reading of Ordinance 218, which sets new rates for occupational licenses. The council conducted the first reading at a special-called meeting held Thursday, February 25. It also made several key changes to the ordinance, including adding an amendment stating that the rate for any occupation not listed in the eight-page list would be set at $50. It also added an amendment stating that license fees for any business that falls under two categories (such as a computer center that sells and repairs computers) would be set at the highest rate. The ordinance will become law upon its publication in The Mountain Eagle.

Water Department Superintendent Bo Hopkins told the council that unaccounted for water losses were down for February. Overall losses stood at 56 percent, down by almost a third from previous months and unaccounted-for losses were down to 38 percent. The city produced 15,881,000 gallons of treated water in February and sold 6,909,700 for a difference of 8,971,300 gallons. This includes a known loss of 1,030,000 gallons to breaks and 1,501,000 for water plant use. Overall 5,975,300 gallons are unaccounted for.

Hopkins also said several major leaks have been located and repaired and one in Pine Lane was just located that day and will be repaired immediately. He said new meters installed for Mountain Breeze Apartments have made a considerable difference in what had been thought of as water losses before the installation. Hopkins said that in the upper set of apartments (about half the total number of apartments), the reading since installation showed 1.16 million gallons use for the month. Rick Damron pointed out that was more than the city had previously billed to the entire complex.

David Richardson told the council that influx problems with the sewer plant have largely been taken care of by reducing a beaver dam. Richardson said a manhole that had been covered by water behind a beaver dam had caused a continual flow of creek water into city sewer pipes and accounted for the influx of several million gallons a day. He said since city workers tore the dam apart, plant intake has dropped back to acceptable levels of 600,000 gallons per day, which is more in line with the amount the plant was designed to treat. Richardson also said he wanted to make certain people understand that the wastewater plant was never putting untreated sewage back into Elkhorn Creek.

“The overflow doesn’t mean we were putting fecal matter into the creek,” said Richardson. “The samples we sent to labs always came back good. There was simply too much water for the plant to handle.”

Mark Fibus of Nesbitt Engineering, which works with the city on water and sewer projects, told the council that bids have come in on work to address several issues with the wastewater plant and recommended the council accept the $384,000 base bid from Howard Engineering of London. Fibus said he had checked Howard’s references and they were very good. The council voted to accept the Howard bid and Fibus said the work should begin soon.

The wastewater plant repairs will concentrate on three areas. A pump station will be rebuilt, including a “fines” screen that catches every solid object that gets past the “trash basket” being replaced and the trash basket will be rebuilt to make it be easier to dump. The drying beds will be replaced and the roof glass will be replaced by translucent fiberglass. The total estimated cost is $354,000.

Paul Nesbitt also reported that work will begin on the Number Two Bottom Sewer Repair Project within the next month and said it will largely depend on the weather as to how soon it will be complete.

In other matters addressed by the council:

• Mayor Dixon presented an “Unsung Hero” award to David Little of Burdine. Little is president of the Burdine Elementary School PTO and volunteers in several other city functions. Dixon said Little is the kind of person communities are built on and praised his selfless service.

• Fire Chief Rick Corbett told the council some progress has been made on acquiring emergency medical techncian service for the city. Corbett said several new members of the fire department are either trained EMTs or are medical professionals and others are attending EMT training. Corbett also emphasized the importance of displaying the 911 address on each home so police and ambulance services can locate an emergency call as quickly as possible. He added, “We can usually see the fires.”

• The council voted to award two demolition projects to the low bidder on each. The abandoned homes are located in Number Four Hollow and on “Mudtown Hill.” David Addington was low bidder for each project. Both Rick Damron (Addington’s brother-in-law) and Todd DePriest, who has business relations with Addington, abstained from voting. The vote was 4-0.

• The Shriners will hold a fundraising roadblock in March and Relay for Life will have one in April.

• Mayor Dixon reported only 645 “blue bag” recyclables collected in February, down from 818 in January. In light of the audit, Dixon said the city will have no choice but to raise garbage rates unless costs can be brought under control. He said landfill fees should be the easiest way to address costs, if only people will recycle.

• A special meeting of the city’s Planning Committee will be held Monday, March 8, at 6 p.m. in the meeting room in the old Jenkins High School to discuss the Jenkins Centennial. The public is urged to attend.

• Council member Chuck Anderson reported the Homecoming Festival Committee had $11,404.28 in its account before a fundraiser held that day. The Festival Committee will meet Tuesday, March 9, at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

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