Middlesboro Mayor gives update on city’s progress

Published 12:08 pm Monday, September 9, 2019

The year is halfway through and Middlesboro Mayor Rick Nelson wants to update the community on the progress of the city.

First, the city of Middlesboro is proud of several grants they have recently received:

• $110,000 mentoring grant for the young people in the community;

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• $125,000 to pave 15th Street;

• $80,000 for pour and play for the playgrounds;

• $50,000 for a tub grinder to grind up the limbs picked up by the street department;

• $2,000 grant to help stripe the roads in different areas.

“A couple of things we ran on was getting the budget in order. When we first took office, we were in the hole with unpaid bills,” Nelson said. “We made a strong effort to try to pay those off, and we still have a cash flow problems because we have a lot of large bills like retirement and pension.”

He explained that the city is making payments on the large debts.

“I think we are getting better on the budget, but we still have some issues. We do have some challenges,” he said.

The city is still behind on the audits, but he said that they are getting caught up. He explained that the bookkeeper is up to 2018, but a company has to be hired to certify those.

“We are doing the best we can on our budget and checking our invoices and making a good effort on that,” he said.

When Nelson ran for office, he said he had a different opinion of the codes and what he would do when he got into the office.

“The city council voted a few years ago to initiate a process instead of letting the district courts have it,” Nelson said.

He explained that there is a process now where residents can go and fine people, put liens on the property, but it’s a process and it lasts anywhere for six months to a year.”

He said that people see a lack of activity but there is a legal process that has to take place.

“We still have three or four landlords that’s causing us about 90% of the problems,” he pointed out. “They are doing a little bit better, but we will have to end up putting liens on their property, tearing down houses or taking them to court. With Blake Bowling as our city attorney, he’s very interested in doing that. ”

According to Nelson, there are about 175 cases right now that will be taken before the codes enforcement board. The tickets are taken before the board and then the board appears before council on what decision has been made on the violation.

“I know it’s a slow process and we had so many run down and nasty houses, but I can tell you that work is being done,” he said.

He does want to remind the community that if you are concerned about a particular house, you can contact city hall and he will find the house and call you back with your concern.

One of the most controversial topics in the community was the decision not to open the pool this summer.

“I know that a lot of people got mad over the swimming pool,” he explained. “We heard more about the pool than we did anything. We made the decision not to open the pool this past year for two reasons. First of all, it was $90,000 to pay the lifeguards, the supervisors, the chemicals, and we didn’t have that in the budget. It had already been spent.”

When Nelson took office, he noticed that the pool was empty.

“I asked the maintenance and they explained there was a leak and that a firehose had to be placed in the pool to keep it from running completely empty.”

He said that he and the council are still taking heat for making the decision, but he said they would do it again.

“We had some donations from some businesses, and we fixed the leak and it cost about $7,000,” said Nelson. He explained that it has been filled with water and next year, if all goes well, the pool will be opened.

He explained that the process to operate the pool will need to be evaluated.

“We can’t run it like we’ve been running it,” he said. “We are going to have to have a process where we are going to charge some money and there’s going to be more discipline.”

He explained that there may be certain days the pool will be open and maybe look into having some passes.

“There will be some changes, and the people that complained will probably continue to complain,” he said.

The next topic was the garbage rates and how he and the council didn’t want to raise the rates.

“When we came into office one of the bills was $150,000 from the garbage company Waste Connections,” he said. “They were very concerned, and they hinted that we may have to be cut off and we didn’t want to do that. We signed a contract, so we owed them $150,000 because we were not charging enough to pay the bill.”

He explained that there approximately 4,200 customers, and the city wasn’t charging enough to pay that bill.

“They have a clause in the contract that every year,” he said. “They can raise what we have to pay up to 3% and that’s $15,000 extra a year, but a lot of people may not realize but when we read the contract, that’s why we were getting behind.”

He explained that they are addressing that by raising the rates, but that the rates are still cheaper than London and Corbin.

“We are paying that bill down, and hopefully by the next contract year we will have that debt completely paid off,” he said.

He also discussed the sewer rates and although they were raised, the sewer rate in Middlesboro is cheaper than many of the surrounding communities.

The city had two major violations in November and December and were fined $30,000. He explained the fine was reduced to $5,000. Since January, he explained that the city has spent about $250,000 extra dollars on repairs on the plant to show a good faith effort.

“We have to show the environmental and energy cabinet that we were trying to do something,” he said. “One of the things that they told us is that we had to fix the plant. If we didn’t, they were going to come in and take it over and impose a sewer rate that would be higher than what we were going to do.”

He discussed that there has been increases in the water company and KU had an increase, but the sewer rate hadn’t been increased in 37 years.

“We didn’t want to raise the sewer rate, but we wanted to be responsible. We didn’t like what was dumped in our lap, but that’s something for a new mayor and new council you don’t want to raise anybody’s rates but we felt that we had to,” he said.

There is a plan in place through Vaughn and Melton for about $18 million, and it will take about 10 to 15 years to complete.

“We have to show Frankfort that we have a plan and we are going to follow it step by step,” he explained. “That includes mapping all the sewer lines because they are in lousy shape and that’s going to be part of it.”

Nelson did point out the city received a million dollar grant for the sewer plant that will take care of one of the clarifiers and it will take about a year to complete.

“We as a council are trying to make changes, and sometimes change is hard but we are open and we don’t hide anything,” he said. “We let you know and that’s why at least publicly, when we had those meetings and there was one person that showed up. Even if it’s something that people don’t like, but we try to explain what the problem is and what we need to do about it and come to a result.”

The mayor encourages the community to reach out if you have any concerns or comments. City Hall is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and you can give them a call at 606-248-5670. You can also stay connected by following their Facebook page at The City of Middlesboro.