The big news came out Friday evening last week. McIntosh Ambulance did sell their service, despite the ominous predictions made by some in the county, the reality is that McIntosh can still bill and is still responsible for managing the Lee County Ambulance Service and can do so using our still existing license. Nothing has significantly changed for Lee County. I anticipate there will be a change in the near future, but until McIntosh Ambulance requests to be released from the contract, things remain the same. The question is, what will the new ambulance service look like? As I stated in the Fiscal Court meeting on the 8th of August, my thoughts are that we need to take the service over again, revamp things, then set up a new taxing authority to run it in the future. This does not mean I am against another option to make the Lee County Ambulance Service more responsive using a private or nonprofit to partner with, but I haven’t seen anyone yet willing to work outside the normal operating parameters to achieve what they want and what I believe the County needs. I am still waiting to hear from American Medical Response on (AMR) on my proposal last week. I will keep you informed.
I have also reached out to a couple of other nonprofits I hadn’t contacted previously to see if we can find a way to approach this on a regional level with counties augmenting the service. I am open to a better solution, but I still believe the best solution resides in the Ambulance Service being a tax-based service and a core of ambulance members being part of the county retirement system. This provides the best hedge against trained people being hired away by hospitals and other organizations, which is a problem nation-wide.
At last week’s meeting of the Lee County Library Board, the board, listening to community members in attendance, lowered their tax rate from 16.7 to 16 on the real estate tax and from 19.2 to 16.5 on tangible property. I commend the board for taking this courageous move to help the county prepare for the advent of possibly having to invest a significant amount into a better ambulance service. The reality of our situation is that this has been a surprisingly good year for taxes, but we still must prioritize where our money goes so we can move the county forward.
At last week’s school board, the archery team for their performance at a qualifier and entry into the World Archery Championships in Nashville; teacher Jessica Napier for her preparations for the upcoming school year; and bus driver, Norman Miller, for saving residents from a fire recently. The most upsetting news to me was the loss of student population from last year. Last Spring there were 911 students registered in the Lee County School System, at the first count this year, there were only 882. The loss of a student translates into about a $25 a day loss per student from the school budget if my calculations are correct.
One of the issues brought up at the last Fiscal Court Meeting I didn’t discuss last week was the “Tax Moratorium”. Here is how I see it. It allows the County or City to identify a group of people they want to give a tax break to and by writing an ordinance can task the Property Valuation Administrator to keep the assessment of their property at the rate it is at when the person applies for to be on the Moratorium list for five years. This means no matter how much money they put into the property to improve it or how much property values go up, the assessment on their property will not increase for five years. At the end of the five years, the owner can approach the Fiscal Court and ask for an extension. This “tax moratorium” will only apply to the government agencies (county/city) who adopt it. It will not apply to other taxing districts like schools, library, extension, conservation, health board taxes. The PVA will charge the person two different assessment rates with this program. It does; however, reflect the government agencies are willing to cut people who want to develop businesses in the county as much a break as possible.
Mayor Jackson and I went to a FOCUS meeting in McKee on Friday and participated in another discussion about regional business development this group with representation from Clay, Letcher, Owsley, Lee, and Jackson Counties, along with People’s Rural Telephone and Jackson Electric Cooperative is a great place to learn more about regional issues and develop plans. There are two projects on the table. The first is, county school systems, using a student driven program, will be able to utilize a grant to create a media presentation marketing this region to the world. They intend to start organizing in the Fall. The second is that this group will put out a survey to area businesses to identify how they see the market and future markets at a grass roots level. This data will be utilized to help determine the best way forward to market our communities and create greater understanding of attracting businesses that will help build communities.
The smoke has cleared and it appears there will be two issues on the ballot this coming Fall, whether or not the community wants to allow the sale of alcohol in Precincts 1 and 2 of Beattyville, and/or whether or not the community wants to allow the sale of alcohol county wide. I know this is a hot button issue for many, but let’s remember we all have to live with the results of the election and it’s best if we respect each other’s right to “agree to disagree” and avoid personal commentary. The next step is the Fiscal Court will have to write an order to put it on the ballot, and we will do that at the next Fiscal Court Meeting in September. I do not think the sale of alcohol will significantly change our community or be some financial windfall. I do think it will make it easier for restaurants to survive and make us more attractive to investors in the region.
I am pleased to make another announcement, the Kiwanis Fair, after much confusion, will happen on 18-21 September, 2019 at Happy Top.
Saturday and Sunday I had the pleasure of joining local entrepreneurs and officials at two different events that reflect, in my opinion, the positive future for our region.
On Saturday, I attended a discussion about the future of Engine 2716 at the Revenna, Kentucky Rail Yards. Thanks to the Kentucky Steam Heritage Association, CSX, and Estill County, along with many railroad enthusiasts, the railyards closed in the 1990s has found a new life. So have many pieces of railroad equipment. They are still about 1.2 million away from having a running engine, but I wouldn’t count these enthusiasts out of the game. The Estill County Rail Days will be in September and everyone can see the railyards and equipment as they move to make Revenna a historic rail restoration center second to none.
I also went to the Natural Bridge Artisan Festival, where less than a decade ago, a group of us had to beat the woods to find vendors to set up. This year there were over 60 vendors and crowds filled the aisles looking for unique gifts and bargains. It is a true celebration of Appalachian crafts, music and culture. The director of the Festival, Brenda Campbell, had to cut of vendor registration about a month before the event began. It was an example of how a group who is focused on celebrating our culture and finding a way to make a living off it, can come together and create a win/win situation for the Park, communities and the vendors.
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Just a thought: If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." ...