2008-06-04 / Front Page

Jenkins council divided over size of rate increases

By WILLIAM FARLEY

Citizens of Jenkins will see a raise in both water rates and sanitation fees in the coming fiscal year, but the increase in sanitation fees will only be half the initial raise proposed by the city's utilities commission.

The council split their vote on both increases and several members expressed misgivings about increasing rates on two city services that are vital to the health and safety of citizens. The rate increase for water customers is unchanged from the initial proposal from the Utilities Commission. The first 1,000 gallons will cost $10. The second 1,000 gallons will cost an additional $3 up to 8,000 gallons. Above 8,000 gallons, each 1,000 gallons will cost an additional $6.

The Utilities Commission reported that under the old rate system, the city lost money on amounts over 3,000 gallons, essentially, paying higher end users to use more water. Mayor Dixon said it was a poor business practice for the city to borrow money from the sewer system to balance out losses in the water system and Rebecca Terrill summed up the feelings of those voting for the increase by saying that there was no alternative.

"Nobody likes to raise rates," said Terrill. "But we have to do something. The commission has worked hard and done a good job. We should take the Utilities Commission's recommendation."

Council member Rick Damron said the new rate structure would tend to benefit senior citizens and others who don't use a great deal of water. Damron also reminded the council that their duty is to operate with a balanced budget, and it is the duty of the city council to see that city departments do not operate in the red.

The council approved the rate increase by a vote of four to two with Terry Braddock and Carol Anne Litts Chuck Anderson, and Linda Baldwin voting yes.

The council made two attempts to modify the sanitation fee before coming to a satisfactory conclusion. The original request by the Utilities Commission was to raise it from $11.50 to $13. Rebecca Terrill first moved to change the increase to 50 cents but her motion died for lack of a second. Then Rick Damron told the council that the suggested rate increase was just enough to make the sanitation department break even and moved to cut the proposed increase in half, to 75 cents, raising the rate to $12.25 a month. Terrill seconded the motion and it passed with a four-to-three vote. Terrill, Damron, and Chuck Anderson voted yes, and Litts, Baldwin, and Braddock voted no. Mayor Dixon voted yes to break the tie.

The council also had a split vote on another fiscal measure, the second reading of an ordinance to impose a .025 percent Banking Franchise and Local Deposits fee. Chuck Anderson told Mayor Dixon that while the increase may be necessary, he felt uncomfortable imposing taxes and fee increases piecemeal and suggested the council meet to discuss the entire tax code and fee structure. Rick Damron pointed out that several surrounding communities not only have the Banking and Franchise fee, but impose an income tax on their citizens as well. The ordinance passed four to three with Damron, Terrill, and Baldwin voting yes and Braddock, Anderson, Litts voting no. Again Mayor Dixon broke the tie with a yes vote.

In other business, the council voted to move forward with four water and sewer projects with Nesbitt Engineering and to allow Mayor Dixon to sign the formal agreements for each project. The projects include extending water lines to Cane Branch and McPeeks Branch, rerouting a sewer line in Number Two Bottom to reduce pressure on the line, extending water and sewer lines to the Interpretive Center at Pound Gap, and replacing city water lines in order to reduce the city's extensive loss of treated water. City Engineer Paul Nesbitt told the council that funds allocated by the federal government and routed through the state for the Interpretive Center will not be released until utilities are extended to the site and that the city must replace the old lines in order to reduce water losses. The $2 million line replacement project will not take care of the entire city but will start at the water plant and "go as far as we can go." Nesbitt said that the city will then begin a second phase which will complete line replacement throughout the city and allow Jenkins to supply water to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District for Payne Gap all the way to Mayking.

Water and Sewer District Director Greg Pridemore visited the meeting and told the council that the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund has approved a study of the area of Payne Gap through to Mayking to determine if the area is eligible for AML funding. Pridemore said the project will be undertaken anyway but the AML funding will reduce the amount the county will need to borrow to complete it. Pridemore said the Water and Sewer District will negotiate a contract with the city for the water.

Letcher County Economic Development Director Joe DePriest also visited the council. DePriest said that industrial recruiting at the Gateway Industrial Park in Jenkins is moving along well and said that a company which had requested anonymity was supposed to sign a contract to purchase the old Image Entry building. Mayor Dixon jokingly told DePriest that a representative of the unnamed company had come by City Hall and asked that the water be turned on. DePriest reminded the council that actual industrial recruitment for the park had only started in 2003 and that over 100 jobs have been added since. He predicted that the total would be between 140 and 200 by the end of the year.

DePriest also told the council that the Letcher County Airport has been approved and that the airport commission is currently working on a master plan to submit to the Federal Aviation Administration. He said that after the plan is approved the commission will apply for funding. The FAA will fund 95 percent of the airport construction costs. DePriest also told the council that he had visited the federal Bureau of Prisons website and that a proposed federal penitentiary for Jenkins is in the BOP long-range budget. He said it may be five or six years away, but he said he believes that a federal prison will be located at Jenkins.

Country Musician Marlow Tackett also visited the meeting and asked the council to consider the possibility of locating a horse park and show ring at the site of the old Elkhorn Country Club. Tackett told the council that next to music, he is most interested in horses, particularly in horse shows and trail riding. He said the Jenkins area not only has tremendous natural beauty but it is located on the Pine Mountain Trail which is part of the linear state park being opened from the Breaks to Cumberland Gap. Tackett proposed having a major horse show at the site each year and using it as a trailhead for riders who wanted to ride the trail. He said that riders would come from all the way from Canada to experience the natural beauty and historical aspects of the Pine Mountain Trail

In other council business:

• The council voted to purchase the Thoroughbred Health Insurance plan through the Kentucky Association of Counties for city employees. The plan is the same as last year's and the costs are the same too.

• Water Superintendent Bo Hopkins reported that losses of treated water are down from 41 percent in April to 25 percent in May. The amount of loss went from 5,313,800 gallons in April to 3,323,760 in May. Hopkins attributed much of the savings to finding a one-and-a-quarter-inch water line that was full of leaks and replacing it entirely. Hopkins said he finally found the line on a 1914 map.

• Police Chief Jim Stephens reported that city officers responded to 106 complaints and made 23 arrests. Seven of the arrests were drug related and five were the result of warrants. He said the department is conducting road checks for city stickers and participating in the statewide "Click it or Ticket" campaign to increase use of seat belts.

• The Jenkins Planning Commission and the Letcher County Parks and Recreation Department will present a free movie on P&R's portable projection screen in the Jenkins City Park on June 20.

• The council passed the second reading of the 2008- 2009 city budget. The $2,113,544 budget passed unanimously.

• Chuck Anderson reported that the homecoming festival is going well and said he hopes to have T-shirts for sale with the new city logo, approved Monday night, by July. Anderson also said he is having trouble with updating the city website. He said that although he makes regular updates on the site, the updates do not take effect and suggested the city look at another provider when the current contract expires.

• Mayor Dixon reported that the city cannot use Aquacide pellets to remove water lilies from Jenkins Lake, which supplies drinking water to the city. Dixon said the pellets would render the water unusable for drinking for 21 days. Rebecca Terrill suggested the city learn to "embrace the lilies" the same way the county was advised to embrace the bears.

• Council member Linda Baldwin suggested the council restructure the meetings to place important business at the beginning and cut down on the length of meetings. Baldwin said the June meeting had taken three hours and that most of the important business had come at the end when everyone was tired.

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