Fiscal Court discusses broadband access

Published 3:22 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

By Jordan Brooks

jordan.brooks@middlesboronews.com

At the Nov. 14 Bell County fiscal court meeting, the court discussed the $31 million dollars allocated for improved broadband across the state. According to Judge executive Albey Brock, Bell County will have no part in the decision making process or seeing which houses will get Internet access,

Kentucky officials announced on Nov. 13 that 16 counties across the southern and eastern parts of the state will soon have more access to high-speed Internet. The Center for Rural Development is helping to coordinate what is called a launchpad to provide better, faster, and more affordable high-speed Internet to approximately 33 thousand homes. The counties included in this initiative are Bath, Bell, Boyd, Carter, Garrard, Knox, Laurel, Lincoln, Martin, McCreary, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Rowan, Russell, and Whitley.

“The broadband issue, and the money that you’re seeing is going to co-ops,” said Judge-Executive Albey Brock. “Cumberland Valley electric is a co-op we have here, KU is a co-op that we have here, Spectrum is the only true hardwire provider we’ve got here.

“So as far as the fiscal court is concerned, we’re not set up to be a utility or a co-op, so we really didn’t qualify for that money. Spectrum got a couple hundred grand, and they’re going to do the study.”

Brock says the fiscal court has tried to assuage the broadband issue through the regional industrial authority, and the court has received a grant approximately 6 years ago for several hundred thousand. According to Brock, this grant, however, was not feasible for a startup to not only establish itself but also run hardwire at a low cost.

Shortly thereafter Magistrate Eddie Saylor also requested an update on the Wildlife Center. Brock said good progress is underway, and since the last court meeting the Bell Chamber of Commerce has visited the facility. Tours of the facility are being held for organizations, such as the Bell County extension office as well as Leadership Bell County.

According to Brock, the Wildlife center is close to completion. Brock says it was discussed that there will be a pass for people local to the area, so instead of paying the price of a full ticket, those in Bell and surrounding counties, specifically the 5 counties associated with the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority, will have the opportunity to buy a yearly pass. These counties include Bell, Harlan, Knox, Letcher and Whitley counties.

Brock says progress on the Flash SteelWorks facility in Middlesboro is ahead of schedule, but recognizes the winter months may cause a delay. Brock said if the project is on time, he will be satisfied considering the size of the project. The main facility is planned to open in May, but Brock said certain qualified applicants will be sent up to the Flash facility in Michigan to do training, including instructors of Southeast Community College.

Brock also made comment as to why Bell County is not on a burn ban, stating he believes a burn ban will not curb arsonist behaviors, and he does not wish to punish people who are burning responsibly.

“Most of the fires that we’ve got… of the 15-16 fires we’ve had, five of them have been from a fire potentially getting away from somebody, and the rest of them have been set by an arsonist. Putting on a full burn ban does not stop an arsonist. They do not care,” said Brock. “Putting on a burn ban does put the government in everybody’s business, and responsible people [who] are away from the woodline and have a controlled environment and need to burn debris as a result of a project they may be doing around their house, if we put on a burn ban next thing they know they have someone from Division of Forestry in their yard.”

In other news, the court also:

• Paid bills and made necessary transfers.

• Accepted treasurer’s financial statement for last month.

• Accepted sheriff’s claim sheet for fee account for last month.

• Awarded bids for blacktopping of various county roads.

• Hired David Barlow and Robert Churchwell as Court Security Officers at $10 per hour effective Nov. 30, 2023.

• Hired Sara Kayla Mason and Tiffany Wilson as part-time employees at the Bell County Animal Shelter at $9.00 per hour effective Nov. 16, 2023.

• Hired Tammy Frederick, Christian Fuson, Travis Howard, Danny Stephens, Derek Overton, Matthew Warren, and Sonya Warren as part-time deputy jailers at $9 per hour effective Nov. 16, 2023.

• Changed Kenneth Dees from part-time deputy jailer to full-time deputy jailer effective Nov. 16, 2023.

• Changed Kirsten Middleton from full-time EMT to part-time EMT effective Nov. 16, 2023.

• Changed rate of pay for Melissa Russell to $10.25 and Tammy Shepherd to $10.25 for completion of training effective Nov. 23, 2023.

• Approved payment to Green Construction Company, Inc. for the amount of $136,925.73 for Payment Application #8 for Flash Steel Works.

• Approved payment to Clotfelter-Samokar for the amount of $38,688.00 for professional services for Flash Steel Works.

• Accepted checks in the amount of $15,743.13 from Mitch Williams, Bell County Sheriff.

• Accepted checks in the amount of $22,152.95 from Debbie Gambrel, Bell County Clerk.

• Approved payment to JMT for the amount of of $6,289.50 for site development invoice #9 for Flash SteelWorks.

• Hired Lindsay Wilcox as part time employee at the Bell County Animal Shelter at $9 per hour effective Nov. 16, 2023.