Whitesburg KY

Whitesburg council explores annexation

Residents in Solomon Creek will soon be offered the opportunity to be part of the City of Whitesburg.

At the Whitesburg City Council’s June meeting, Councilman Derek Barto, a longtime proponent of annexation, said it is time to get the matter taken care of. Mayor James Wiley Craft said the cost of doing a survey could be a problem, since in the past some homeowners have said they do not wish to be included in the city limits.

Paul Nesbitt of Nesbitt Engineering, who works with the city on funding and infrastructure, told Craft that state regulations have been modified to accept aerial photography and the cost should be low.

Councilman Mike Jackson said that since every house on Solomon already has city water, it shouldn’t be a problem to contact the homeowners. Councilman John Pellegrini added that while some residents may object to paying city taxes, if the area is annexed, lower insurance rates from fire protection from the Whitesburg Volunteer Fire Department should more than offset the taxes. Craft said he will not force annexation on anyone, although he doesn’t see why they would turn it down.

“If you’re going to give $100 to somebody and they don’t want it, I’m not going to make them take it,” said Craft.

Councilman Barto said the people who want to be annexed deserve to receive police and fire protection, and people on Solomon do pay a higher rate for homeowner’s insurance because they are not in the city limits. For liability reasons and cost, the city only provides fire and police protection to homes inside the city limits.

The Whitesburg Volunteer Fire Department has a new chief. After announcing the voluntary retirement of current Chief Gary Mullins, Mayor Craft announced that long time firefighter and current Assistant Chief Perry Fowler will assume the role of fire chief. Craft told the council that during Mullins’s tenure as chief, the Insurance Services Office had lowered its ISO rating from five to three. This means the city is considered safe and well protected by the fire department and homeowner’s insurance rates have gone down due to the lower rating.

In other business, the council unanimously authorized Craft to sign the contract to purchase Mueller radio read water meters from Consolidated Pipe Company of Debord, Ky. The city will either replace or upgrade all the approximately 1,250 water meters for customers the city currently serves in order to allow for reading by radio. The meters can then be read in a matter of hours as city workers download readings to handheld devices or laptop computers. This will reduce the time and manpower for reading water meters from two men taking approximately two weeks to a day’s work.

Craft said he has reviewed the contract and provided a copy for each council member. The first semi-annual payment of $21,878 will be due in December 2019, and Craft said he is pleasantly surprised that a greater amount of the payment will go toward the principal rather than to interest.

In other business involving infrastructure, Paul Nesbitt told the council the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority has informed him that Whitesburg will be invited to bid on two projects in this funding round, but will probably only receive funding for one. However, Nesbitt said there will be another round of funding in two or three months and the city will be eligible to bid the other project.

The two projects that are eligible are the $1,305,000 Waterline Replacement Project, and the $947,000 Water Tank Replacement Project. City Manager Chris Caudill and Nesbitt both consider the projects to be necessary and in view of the number of major water line breaks in the past year, the water line replacement is crucial, so Nesbitt said it should be bid first.

The council voted unanimously to contract with Maverick Insurance Group of Pikeville for general liability, property, and auto insurance. Craft said the $141,081 bid by Maverick represented a substantial savings over the bid from the city’s current insurers, Hall and Clark of Prestonsburg.

The council also voted to provide the city’s customary cost share of $2,500 to the Letcher County Farmers Market. Craft praised the managers of the Farmers Market for the work they do and for providing an outlet for fresh, healthy food as well as giving local growers a place to sell their goods. He said the traffic the Farmers Market generates is a positive force for local business and adds to the city’s atmosphere.

The council honored Whitesburg physician Fares Khater with a proclamation for completing this year’s Boston Marathon. Khater is an internal medicine specialist at Mountain Comprehensive Health Care and finished the 2019 marathon with a time of 3 hours 42 minutes.

The grand opening for the Whitesburg Sensory Park was held last Wednesday. The park is the only sensory park in southeastern Kentucky. It is specially designed to meet the needs of autistic children.

In his report, Chris Caudill said work has begun to develop a new website for the city. He added that several systems in the city’s water and sewer system need to be repaired or replaced, including repairs for a clarifier for the sewer plant. Caudill said last year a new bearing for one clarifier cost the city $65,000 but this one can be repaired for around $20,000. He asked the council to approve $38,000 in spending for parts and repairs, and the council approved his request.

Councilman Mike Jackson announced the opening of Willy’s Tap House. The Tap House is located at the site of the old Courthouse Café on Webb Avenue and currently offers 16 beers and ciders. Jackson said the Tap House plans to offer spirits and wine in the near future and will have appetizers, along with pizza and Italian food.

Craft told the council this year’s Independence Day Celebration will be held at the city park on July 6, since July 4 falls on Thursday. He said that as usual, there will be fireworks and entertainment.

The council also conducted the first reading of the city budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. The budget calls for revenues of $2,551,870 against expenditures of $2,329,262. The council approved the second reading at a special meeting last night, Tuesday, in City Hall.

The budget calls for estimated revenue from water and sewer of $1,265,616 against expenditures of $1,202,557, for a surplus of $63,059. Water and sewer produce their own revenue. The budget for the Whitesburg Police Department is set for $463,720, and is in the General Fund category. Also in the General Fund is sanitation at $292,567, the street fund at $425,969, and the fire fund at $320,394.00 The city started the fiscal year with a balance of $137,097.00 left from last fiscal year.

The new budget will go into effect on July 1.

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