Wednesday, February 26, 2014

County rejects FEMA flood maps

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
On Monday the Webster County Fiscal Court found themselves at a point where they had to make a decision about the highly debated FEMA flood maps. It was not a decision that the court took lightly, nor one that they had reached easily.
For the last month magistrates and Judge Executive Jim Townsend have been examining the maps and speaking with various representatives of local, state and federal government, including Congressman Ed Whitfield and Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White.
“Lyon county is the one county in the state that has told FEMA absolutely no,” Judge Townsend told the magistrates. “I’m not sure that we don’t need to be the second. There is a lot to weigh.”
Townsend told the court that he had spent some time speaking with White during a recent legislative session in Frankfort, and Magistrate Chad Townsend presented the court with an email that White had recently sent to The Journal-Enterprise.
“I am not willing to be party to a government agency that is knowingly hurting our people and their home values if I have a choice, despite their threats,” wrote White. “By staying a part of the program we felt we were legitimizing the maps.  By coming out, we did get FEMA’s attention.  I haven’t found another county that has done that.”
Since Lyon County voted to reject the maps, White said, FEMA has agreed to revisit his county’s maps.
The biggest reason the Fiscal Court has seriously considered voting to accept the maps, despite what everyone sees as errors, is the threat of losing FEMA funding that becomes available in the event of a flood. But according to White, that is a somewhat empty threat.
“If you read it closely, the FEMA funding rejection is only for areas where the flood zone touches, not the whole county,” said White. He added that during the 2011 flood, Lyon County did not qualify for individual assistance (IA).
“We did not have enough flood damage to homes. IA requires several homes in a long stretch to be wiped out and even if you qualify, its only around $30,000 per home.  Its very difficult to get individual assistance.  In areas where we actually have a true flood zone - if we lose every house in that flood zone - I don’t believe we would qualify for IA anyway.  So the threat is worthless to us.”
Lyon County did qualify for public assistance, which is for publicly owned property such as a county road or city street.
“None of that money we got was actually in a flood zone,” he wrote. “Most was out in the county where roads were damaged by heavy rains and washouts. FEMA will only deny you money if you are requesting money in those flood zones.  If we have a tornado or anything outside those small flood zone areas we still qualify.  They don’t cut off the whole county, only the specific area zoned to be in flood zone.”
With White’s words weighing heavily on the court’s decision, magistrates also heard from Water Conservation District Agent Mike Andrews, who is well aware of the reality of flooding in Webster County.
He said that the actual flood zone in Sebree is at 386 feet, the elevation used by FEMA on the map. In the Blackford area the flood zone begins at 363.5.
Rumors have circulated that FEMA used the Sebree measurement to establish the flood zones county wide, but Andrews said that he had his doubts about that. 
“The real issue in that area is the city of Blackford itself,” he told the court. “When they did the map, I think they just covered the whole town with the flood zone. There are a lot of structures in Blackford that are above the 363.5 foot benchmark.”
Andrews added that he didn’t think there was any way to change FEMA’s decision except for each land owner to go through the process of having their property surveyed.
Until FEMA presented the county with the new flood maps, Webster County was one of the only counties in the Commonwealth without FEMA flood maps. Instead, residents generally referred to the 1937 flood as a benchmark for flooding.
“The ‘37 flood is what is considered a 500-year-flood,” said Andrews. “It’s about a foot or so more than the 100-year-flood.”
The designation on the new FEMA maps is for the 100-year-flood level. Much of the debate around the maps in Sebree has centered on the fact that much of the new flood zone did not flood in the 1937 flood.
“Elevations don’t change,” Andrews said.
Judge Townsend told the magistrates that he felt like they were being “ram-rodded” by FEMA, and recommended that they not accept the maps at this time.
The ordinance to accept the maps was defeated with a unanimous vote.
In other business, Judge Townsend read a proclamation declaring March as Sever Storm Month in Webster County to help the Webster County EMA raise awareness of tornado and severe thunderstorm safety.

Two graduate from Drug Court

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The mention of Drug Court automatically makes some people think that the justice system is taking it easy on criminals, but those few offenders who manage to make it through the program will tell you different.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d be sober,” said Justin Baker, a Crittenden County resident who was the 54th person to graduate from Drug Court in the Crittenden, Webster and Union County area. “I never thought I’d be able to get back into the mining industry again.”
Baker has done just that, after completing one year and three months in the program. During that time he attended 367 meetings and 147 drug screens. He has been clean for 470 days.
“Some people think that this is just a slap on the wrist,” said Circuit Court Judge Rene Williams. “Or that we are being easy on crime.”
To Williams and the drug court staff, it is a way to truly help people.
“Drug Court graduates have a 75 percent success rate of not re-offending,” said Williams. “That is much higher than someone who gets out of prison on parole.”
Drug Court is a post conviction court, meaning that to even apply for enrollment, you must already have plead guilty to a misdemeanor or felony related drug charge.
Williams said that most drug courts do not accept misdemeanor offenders, but that the local team feels that if they can catch someone early, they can keep them from progressing to worse crimes.
“Drug court is a privilege, not a right,” Williams said. “We do not force anyone into this program, although some people might feel they are forced if their option is prison or drug court.
To enroll in the program, offenders who have already plead guilty must apply. Those applicants are then considered by the Drug Court team, who decides which offenders they believe they can help.
Once enrolled, the participants must follow the strict requirements set up by the court. Those can include who the participant can see; where they can work; unannounced home visits; random drug screens; nightly call-ins; curfews; and even a ban on smoke shops.
“It hasn’t always been fun,” Baker said of his time in the program. “I was very hard headed the first month or so, but I’ve been very, very blessed.”
On Wednesday, February 19, 2014 Justin Baker was joined by Providence native Elizabeth Gray who became the 55th person to graduate the program.
“She was a little resistant and didn’t like us telling her who she could see,” said Judge Williams. “We even had to tell her not to see some of her family members.”
Williams pointed out that in some situations, family members can be the worst influences on people trying to turn their lives around.
“She has become a self sufficient person who is giving back to society,” Williams continued, adding she hoped one day that Gray could come work for the Drug Court program.
“No one who comes into this program is the same,” Williams said. “Everyone is here for a different reason, so their needs are different. We do what we think is best for each participant.”
Drug Court started in 2005.

Providence council votes to sell house on Nesbit Street

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The Providence City Council met in a brief session last Tuesday night, joined by delegates of the Providence Elementary “City Council” who were on hand to study exactly how city government worked.
Council member Shannon Layton was appointed Mayor Pro Tem in the absence of Mayor Eddie Gooch. Also missing from the meeting were council members Tom Skinner and Scott Frederick.
The only item of business on the agenda was a motion to declare a piece of property surplus so that the city could sell it.
“The city acquired 209 Nesbit Street in July of 2013 from Mary Cain,” said City Attorney Richard Peyton. “The residence has not been occupied in some time. Ms Cain donated the property to the city in order to stop her property tax.”
Peyton told the council that a few of the neighboring property owners had made inquiries about purchasing the property to prevent their own property value from dropping.
The four members of the council who were present voted to designate the property surplus so that it could be sold.
Council member Keith Ferrell expressed his concern about the property code enforcement board.
“I periodically have people ask me about certain property around town that has become rundown,” he said. “I don’t know. That is something for the property code enforcement board.”
“They have not met in some time,” Peyton said. “There have not been sufficient funds for them to demolish any structures.”
Ferrill pointed out that just because they did not have the funds to demolish any structures did not mean they could not meet to work on finding buyers for some of the properties the city has acquired.
In other businesses, Ferell mentioned that the city had requested a new franchise agreement from  Time Warner Cable.
“I think we need to get something in hand by March,” he said.
It was mentioned that Comcast’s recent purchase of Time Warner could cause that to be delayed.
Ferrell also mentioned that the city had not received an update from the Tourism Commission since last January, even though the council had requested to be kept up to date.

Man arrested after car chase, shots fired

Here in Webster County we are not used to police chases and shootings, but that was exactly what Clay and Dixon area residents witnessed last night, Tuesday February 25, 2014.

 At approximately 6:10 p.m., Kentucky State Police Post 2 received a call for assistance from the Webster County Sheriff’s Department and the Clay Police Department of a complaint that shots were fired into a residence in Clay, KY.
 Upon the arrival of law enforcement, the perpetrator returned to the residence, striking a deputy with his vehicle and firing additional shots into the residence. At this time, officers discharged their firearms at the perpetrator, striking his vehicle. 
Officers initiated pursuit as the vehicle fled the scene. The perpetrator, Tommy R. Branson, age 61, of Sebree, was taken into custody without incident on KY 132 near Dixon when witnesses say his vehicle had a flat tire.
 The Webster County Deputy struck during the incident was treated and released at Baptist Health in Madisonville.
Mr. Branson was charged with the following:

•4 counts of “Attempted Murder.”
•1 count of “Attempted Murder (Police Officer).”
•1 count of “Assault-1st Degree.”
•1 count of “Wanton Endangerment-1st Degree.”
•1 count of “Criminal Mischief-1st Degree.”
•1 count of “Tampering with Physical Evidence.”
•1 count of “Fleeing/Evading Police-1st Degree.”

The incident is under investigation by the Kentucky State Police-post 2/Madisonville. The Kentucky State Police was assisted by the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, Clay Police Department, and Webster County EMS.
Branson was in the news last summer for another incident. He was arrested and charged with arson following a fire on Starl Shelton Road near Sebree. On Tuesday, October 8, 2013 Branson appeared before a Webster County Grand Jury for that charge. The jury requested the matter be dismissed because “insufficient evidence was presented to warrant an indictment.”

No more 4-day school week

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
In a move that will change the face of education in the district, the Webster County School Board voted on Monday to eradicate the four day school schedule.
“It’s going to be a huge change for Webster County students, staff and parents,” said Interim Superintendant Pete Galloway. “You have many staff members who have never taught under a traditional calendar. You have many students who have never gone to school under a traditional schedule.”
Various reasons factored into the overhaul of the schedule. One being that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has increased the minimum number of instructional days schools must have in the schedule. Students will be in class eight more days in the 2014-2015 school year than they were this year.
Even with the increase in the number of days, Webster County will still only be meeting the minimum number of instructional days. The KDE is requiring between 170 and 177 days. The district’s new schedule includes 170 classroom days.
Officials listed the transition from the four day week to the traditional five day week as part of the reason for only doing the minimum number of days.
Under the newly adopted schedule, the first day for students will be August 7, 2014. Fall break will be from October sixth through the tenth; Christmas break will be December 22 to January second; Spring Break will be April sixth through the tenth; and final day for students will be May 15, 2015.
The change to the five day week will also bring about a change to the school day, but Assistant Superintendant Riley Ramsey said that a new start and stop time had yet to be determined, but there will be some changes. Students will be in class 20 minutes less per day.
Galloway told the board that among the changes would be an adjustment to the way teacher’s spend their “professional learning days.”
“These are not the traditional planing days this district is used to,” he said. “These days will be planned days. From the direction the district was going academically, I think you need to spend some time with your staff.”
In other business, Webster County High School Principal Tim Roy and science teacher Marsha Carver presented the board with a proposal for the district to enroll in a program called AdvancedKentucky.
“Eventually the purpose of this program is to work towards offering more AP (advanced placement) classes to Webster County students,” Roy told the board. “This is a grant program, so the majority of it will be funded from the state and federal level.”
The program works on a five year schedule. Initially it provides funding to train teacher to become AP instructors, and offers funding to provide equipment that is needed in the AP classrooms. During that five year span it also provides financial bonuses for teachers and students who achieve in the classroom.
At the end of the first five years, the district can continue with the program, but AdvancedKentucky will no longer provide funding to the district. The idea is that the program helps get the AP program kick started in order to create a culture of higher learning in the school. At that point it is up to the district itself to keep things going.
Traditionally AP classes are offered to honor students only in the higher grade levels. Under AdvancedKentucky there would be AP class opportunity for students as young as freshmen in high school. The program would also provide training to help pre-AP teachers in the middle school grades to help prepare students to begin taking the classes as freshmen.
It would also require the district to accept any high school student who wanted to take an AP class, even if that student was not an honor roll student.
“If we want our kids to improve academically and be ready for college, I think this is a no brainer,” said Galloway.
The proposal did not require board members to vote, as there was no up-front cost to the schools. Roy and Carver, however, wanted the board’s approval, which they got.
Superintendant Galloway told the board that the committee tasked with finding his successor had now been selected. The application period will end on Friday, and the committee will meet to start looking at resumes on Monday.

Whitfield addresses “The Flood Map Around America”

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Webster County residents concerned over proposed FEMA flood maps gathered at the court house in Dixon last Wednesday morning for a meeting with Congressman Ed Whitfield. In fact, so many residents turned out that the meeting had to be moved from the Fiscal Court’s normal meeting chamber to the old Webster County courtroom on the third floor of the court house.
“We are all here because of flood plain maps that FEMA has come out with,” said Webster County Judge Executive Jim Townsend. “I had the opportunity the week before last to speak with FEMA about this.”
Townsend reported that during a recent trip he had made to Washington D.C., FEMA had indicated that they wanted homeowners to file individual complaints if they felt their property was incorrectly classified.
But that process would cost the homeowner at least $500 and could take up to six months to conclude.
In the mean time, customers who have their houses financed are being forced to buy high priced flood insurance. Tom Oldham of Blackford reported that some of his neighbors were paying $500-600 per month.
“It’s unbelievable,” Oldham said. “My wife and I are fortunate enough to own our house. Take some younger people who are both having to work to survive. How can they stand to have a $600 a month flood insurance bill?”
According to Oldham, the worst part is that Blackford residents don’t see the benefit of FEMA.
“FEMA is nothing to me,” he said. He said that during the 2011 flood, FEMA did nothing for residents of his area. “They did not help us out one bit. FEMA is nothing to me because they’ve never shown us nothing here.”
Sebree City Manager Emory Thomas told the crowd that he was looking at paying $5,500 a year for his flood insurance.
“We live in downtown Sebree,” he said. “I’ve lived there in that spot for 49 years. Water has never even gotten into my yard.”
Thomas also said that the bank had notified him that he had 45 days to get flood insurance or they would charge him to do so. He said that when he looked into it, it takes 30 days to get approval from the insurance company.
“FEMA came out in 2007 and told us they were going to do these maps,” he said. “But they said they were going to have hearings about the changes. We never heard from them until they sent the maps.”
Judge Townsend added that the county had been told the same thing.
“It sounds like FEMA did not follow through with their obligation to Webster County,” Whifield said.
He told those gathered that they were not alone in this struggle, pointing out that the same thing was happening from coast to coast as FEMA implemented what he called “the flood map around America”.
“We are beginning to hear from a lot of different people about the impact this has had on them personally as a result of their flood insurance rates going up or them being put in a flood plan,” said Congressman Whitfield.  
The Senate voted 67-32 earlier this year in support of a bill that would delay implementing of the maps for up to four years. To go into effect, the House of Representatives must also pass similar legislation.
 “It’s my understanding that the house is going to take up legislation addressing this issue next week,” Whitfield continued. “And then,  if it passes, they would have to go to conference (with the senate) to work out the differences.”
Whitfield told the gathered crowd that what would help him the most was to hear the individual stories of residents who had been affected by the changes.
He also told the crowd that in a conversation with the FEMA Director in Atlanta that morning, he was told that banks had the right to waive customers’ requirement to buy flood insurance.
Judge Townsend added that at least one bank in Webster County had already done so.
Melanie Legate of United Community Bank questioned whether this was accurate, saying that lenders were required by law to make borrowers insure structures in a flood zone.
“By federal regulations, banks are required to ask that anybody in a flood plain have insurance,” said Legate. “If they don’t get that, the bank force places it so they (the bank) can be under regulatory compliance.”
According to, the official website of the Natioal Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), “Under federal law, the purchase of flood insurance is mandatory for all federal or federally related financial assistance for the acquisition and/or construction of buildings in high-risk flood areas.”
But the congressman and his staff still insisted that this was not the case.
“FEMA told us this morning that banks  can waive making customers buy that insurance,” said Michael Pape, Congressman Whifield’s District Director.
“Couldn’t the director of FEMA in Atlanta send a letter to the banks and let them know that this is an option?” asked Magistrate Chad Townsend.
Whiftield said that he would work on trying to get that done.
“It puts us in a situation where we have to pass the ordinance accepting these maps to get those people who actually are in a flood plain cheaper insurance,” said Judge Townsend. “If we don’t pass it, then we cannot get FEMA money for any damages that might take place.”
“I think we, as magistrates, are under an obligation to make sure that these maps are correct,” said magistrate Chad Townsend.
For homeowners who are affected by the new proposed maps, or any home owner concerned with flooding whether their home falls in a flood plain or not, the NFIP is an important resource to have.
On their website the NFIP says “Many people are under the misconception that they are ineligible for flood insurance because of where they live, or their mortgage status. But the truth is, as long as your hometown is an NFIP community, most homeowners, business owners and renters can get flood insurance. The NFIP urges consumers to remember the flood insurance basics:
•You CAN get flood insurance nationwide.
•You CAN get flood insurance if you live in a floodplain or high-flood-risk area.
•You CAN get flood insurance if you live outside a floodplain, or a low-to-moderate flood-risk area, - and at lower cost.
•You CAN get flood insurance if your property has been flooded before.
•You CAN get flood insurance from insurance agents in your area.
•You CAN buy flood insurance even if your mortgage broker doesn’t require it.

You can contact the NFIP at or at 1-888-379-9531.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dixon Commission discusses possible purchases

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The Dixon Commission was in session last week. Among other items discussed was the need to purchase a zero turn mower and a weed eater for the city of Dixon.
Until late last summer the city of Dixon, like all of the other communities in the county, had taken advantage of the mowing services offered by the Webster County jail.
In late August the city of Dixon stopped using the jail’s mowing services. At this time it is unclear whether the commission plans to ask the jail to start mowing again or not.
Mayor Linda Frederick said in a phone interview that they had not ruled that out.
“We gave (water operator) Jamie Harkins the option to use the prisoners when we hired him,” she said. “We just have no had anything for them to do.”
After discussion of purchasing the equipment, the commission decided to table the topic until spring.
Mayor Frederick told the commission that the city was the recipient of a Safety Grant in the amount of approximately $2,800. During the discussion of some of the city’s sidewalks that where in need of repair, she mentioned a bid from Tim Fraiser for repair work that would encompass four areas along highway 132 West.
Commissioner Donna Keller presented a list containing the names of 13 churches that would be willing to hold invocation before the commission meetings. Plans were made to start the invocation service in March.
In October the commission unanimously approved an ordinance that governed prayer held during their meetings. The ordinance outlines who can pray, when they can pray and requires prior approval of those people.
On it’s website, KLC says that “Many cities in Kentucky open their public meetings with a short prayer or invocation.  This practice was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court decades ago, but recently legislative prayer policies have taken center stage in a flurry of court cases across the nation.  Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will soon be revisiting the issue and hopefully offering updated legal guidance for cities in Kentucky.”
The practice was most recently brought to the forefront in Coleman and Jones vs. Hamilton County Commission (TN), a case the KLC paid close attention to. In the end the county’s practice of opening meetings with a prayer was allowed, but KLC started urging cities to adopt ordinances outlining their own practice.
So far the city of Dixon is the only one in the county that has addressed the issue.
In other business, the commission discussed updating the city’s Christmas lights, some of which were damaged during the Christmas season. In the end the commission decided to leave that project up to water operator Jamie Harkins.
This is an issue that the Providence Chamber of Commerce also addressed at their most recent meeting. The Chamber hosts the annual Christmas lights display at the Providence city park.
Chamber President Elizabeth Holloman said that there was a company near Benton, KY that manufactures and repairs Christmas light displays.

Broadway student earns trip to spelling bee competition

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Providence Elementary student Erik Sorrels represented his school in Evansville over the weekend in the Tri-State Spelling Bee, held Saturday at Ivy Tech.
Over 145 schools were represented in the competition, with the overall winner moving on to represent the Tri-State at the 89th Scripps National Spelling Bee held in Washington.
The contest began with a written round, where students had to not only spell the words correctly, but match them with their definition. The students with the top scores moved on to the oral spelling section.
“It was hard,” said Sorrels, who said he was knocked out of the competition by getting a definition wrong.
According to school officials, Sorrels qualified for the competition by beating out other students at Providence.

Slaughters moving on Festival Plans

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The Slaughters City Commission met on Tuesday night in a meeting rescheduled from the week before due to snow.
The main item on the agenda was a meeting with Debbie Winstead of Independence Bank to discuss the future of a festival being planned for the Slaughters area.
Independence Bank sponsors an annual Tractor Ride in each of the five counties in which their branches are located. Last year, the first time the event was held in Slaughters, 57 tractors participated in a tractor show and 39 took part in a ride through 16 miles of rural Webster County.
This year the city is looking to get more involved in the event.
“What we talked about was expanding the tractor ride to be more of a community event,” said Winstead. “We are going to focus on starting small by incorporating different church groups from around the area who want to take part.”
She explained that invitations will be sent to the various churches around the Slaughters area asking them to take part. Each church will have a representative on the festival committee, which will make the decisions.
“I’m strictly going to do the tractor show and drive,” said Winstead, who will serve on the committee “They are going to organize an event with food booths and a ‘fall festival’ type atmosphere.”
Mayor Jeff Coomes has been wanting to start a festival in Slaughters for a number of years, and when a Slaughters citizen came to him with the idea of incorporating the Independence Bank Tractor Day, he jumped at the idea.
Winstead said that she proposed the first Saturday in August for the event, but scheduling will be up to the committee, which will meet in the next month.

Ray joins WC Sheriff's department

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Webster County Sheriff Frankie Springfield recently welcomed Providence native Derrick Ray as the county’s latest deputy.
“I’ve been with the Providence Police Department for the last five and a half years,” said Ray, who graduated from the Police Academy in 2009.
Ray replace former deputy Jay Workins who was released from the Sheriff’s Department in the fall of last year.

Clay hopes that utility increases will allow city to “break even”

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Last Tuesday night the Clay city council heard their annual audit report from CPA Mike Overby. His findings backed up council members recent decision to raise utility rates.
“It’s been well documented that you should have been raising rates all along,” Overby told the council. “I know you are in the process of raising your rates, hopefully that will get you to the point that you can at least break even.”
For the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, the city saw a lost of $138,642 from it’s utilities, which include gas, water and sewer.
“Utilities are generally what makes the money that you need to pay for things like police and fire departments,” Overby said.
The city saw losses from all three utilities. Gas generated $356,968 in profits, but cost the city $419,849, for a loss of $62,881. The water department was close behind, losing $55,468. Sewer generated a loss of $20,293.
The rate increases are more important when you consider the recent cold streak. While on the surface it would seem that colder temperatures would create more usage from gas customers, the down side is that it also forced an increase in the cost to the city.
“Our gas price was $5.13 this morning,” said Mayor Rick Householder. “Earlier in the year their were two days where gas was only $2.95. The rest of the year it ran between $3.50 and $4.50. When you hear on the news about cold weather and power plants are talking about switching over from coal to natural gas, our gas prices go up.”
“We cannot continue to lose $140,000 a year,” said council member Todd Vanover.
“We are not raising our rates to make money,” said Householder. “When you look at our audit report you can see why it’s important for us to raise rates. We are just trying to break even.
“I’m for the increases,” said Vanover. “This is going to cost my home and my business about $200 a month. Even though it’s going to cost me, I don’t see that the city has any other option. We can’t continue to lose money. It’s not feasible.”
“It’s something we have to do,” Householder said. “If anyone has questions they can come in and talk to us. We can show them the audit.”
Council members voted unanimously to approve the second reading of the ordinance for the rate increases, which will go into effect on the bills that go out on March 20, 2014.
Although it is not part of the ordinance, several council members voiced concern over the cost of running the water house where residents can come to fill water tanks. Currently the charge is $0.25 for roughly 48 gallons of water, which is only about half a cent per gallon.
Council member Jackie Edens pointed out that the city itself pays more than that for the water.
In other business, council members finally voted their final approval on a business license ordinance that they have been working on since last summer. The ordinance would require anyone coming into Clay to sell any goods door-to-door to first register at the city office and purchase a $10 business license.
“It’s not a money maker,” said Householder. “It’s just to provide the city and our residents a little protection.”
The council has stressed at numerous times since they began working on the ordinance that just because a person registers for the license does not mean that residents should take that as a sign that the city says they are safe. All it means is that the city has that person on file at the office. Citizens should use their own judgement when it comes to doing business with strangers or allowing them into their homes.

Monday, February 17, 2014

UPDATED: Road work in Providence

UPDATED @ 11:11 a.m.

Crossing on Hwy 120 near Cedar Street
According to workers with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet plans to remove inactive rail crossings on 120 in Providence have progressed faster than anticipated. Work has already been completed to the site on the Green Grove edge of town, and crews will now be moving on with the site located between Gulf and Poplar Streets in Providence.
KY 120 will be closed from around noon today, Tuesday, February 18, until the work is completed, meaning residents on the western side of town should plan to detour around the area for the time being.
The crossings will be temporarily patched, so use caution when crossing these sections of road.

Site where construction is scheduled to begin around
noon today.
Original Story

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet plans to close KY 120 on Tuesday and Wednesday at the west edge of Providence in Webster County to remove inactive rail crossings.
KY 120 will be closed on Tuesday, February 18. 2014, at mile point 3.7. This is along KY 120 between Green Road and Cedar Street.
KY 120 will be closed on Wednesday, February 19, 2014, at mile point 4.4.. This is along KY 120 between Gulf Street and Poplar Street in Providence.
Both closures are to allow the remove of inactive railroad crossings. KY 120 will be closed promptly at 8:00 a.m., CST, both days and remain closed until about 3:00 p.m., each day.
There will be no marked detour. Passenger vehicles may self-detour via side roads. Trucks should self-detour via appropriate state routes.
Motorists who regularly travel KY 120 at these locations should make advance alternate travel plans.

Friday, February 14, 2014

UPDATE: Congressman Ed Whitfield agrees to meet with Fiscal Court and members of the public about FEMA flood maps

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
While members of the Webster County Fiscal Court were discussing controversial Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) flood maps on Monday, February 10, Judge Executive Jim Townsend was in Washington meeting with legislators.
The result of those meetings,  according to Magistrate Tony Felker, is that Congressman Ed Whitfield has agreed to come to Webster County on Wednesday, February 19 to meet with the Fiscal Court and members of the public.
Last year FEMA introduced new flood plain maps for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Other states have already had the maps implemented or are in the process of doing so. 
On Monday, a congressional delegation from Massachusetts asked that FEMA suspend and amend new flood maps across their state.
Until someone at a higher level of government does something to right the wrong, Webster County officials have their hands tied.
“If we don’t accept them and we have a big flood in Webster County, we aren’t going to be protected by FEMA,” Felker said.  “We wont get any FEMA assistance for our roads or our residents.” 
Residents of Providence who drew FEMA money following the 2002 tornado understand just how important those funds are, but not adopting the maps means that FEMA will withhold the money.
Lyon and Trigg Counties both faced similar circumstances last year when they reviewed their maps. Both of those counties chose to reject them, regardless of the consequences.
“If we were part of that, we felt that we were giving the maps validity,” Wade White, the Lyon County Judge Executive.
White said that he was initially in favor of adopting the FEMA maps because doing so would help some residents get cheaper flood insurance. But his opinion quickly changed.
“After we decided to join this program, people started getting letters telling them that they had to buy flood insurance up on Lake Barkley,” said White. “FEMA mapped in 70 to 80 homes that are higher than the dam.”
Those counties have recently won a small victory by getting FEMA to agree to redo the maps in Trigg and Lyon Counties.
At Monday’s meeting, several members of the public voiced their concern over the maps, reporting that they had already received bills for their flood insurance even though the county has yet to adopt the maps.
“The fiscal court has no control over the insurance,” magistrate Tony Felker said. “But we can work with our congressmen, and I think it would benefit all of you to call your congressman as well.”
Congressman Whitfield will be at the Webster County Courthouse in Dixon on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.

For more on the story:

Fiscal Court hears from resident on FEMA flood maps

Two of the areas in question include Sebree, pictured above, 
and Clay, below.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

School Board hears Trane update

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The Webster County School Board heard from representatives of Harshaw Trane on Monday night.
On September 4, 2012 school board officials entered into a twenty year contract with the Lexington based Trane for a performance-based guaranteed energy savings project. The contract included many energy and maintenance saving technologies and techniques and guaranteed an annual savings of $108,023. 
The guaranteed savings program was designed to allow Webster County Schools to defer a large amount of the project’s cost by generating savings from the operating budget and use those savings to pay for the agreed upon improvements. The total cost of the project was $2.9 million, $98,000 of which was bonded.
“When we started this process two years ago the main focus was updating Sebree Elem HVAC,” said Ernie Tacogue, K-12 Market Leader for Trane. “We had to find enough energy savings so that over time it would pay for the HVAC.”
Among the problem areas he said they noted in there initial assessment were Sebree’s HVAC which had been installed primarily in 1986, control issues in other schools, outdated lighting technologies and excessive water consumption.
The new systems installed by Trane include a web based control system, accessible by facilities manager Dennis Parrish and the school’s Trane representative based in the Lexington office. 
“You can control your HVAC from one central location,” said Tacogue. “If you can manage that, you can manage 60% of your energy savings.”
The system also allows the operator to monitor the usage of electricity and gas in real time. Tacogue said that this would allow them to identify peak usage times and adjust things like the HVAC to bring down the utility cost.
Tacogue said it was a bit like continually “fine tuning” each facility.
Another bonus, he told the board, was that the system constantly monitors the temperature of all of the districts refrigerators and freezers. If they raise to an unsafe level it automatically notifies Parrish and Trane.
“We will meet on a quarterly basis and show you where you are,” said Curt Barrett,  Webster County’s Trane representative. 

School Board talks safety, school lunch price

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Following a special called meeting to meet with representatives of Harshaw Trane on Monday, the Webster County School Board held their regular scheduled meeting.
Webster County Safety Director Mark Spainhoward addressed board members with an update to the school’s safety program. He also told the board that Sebree and Dixon Elementary Schools had recently completed safety assessments, and presented them with a list of safety recommendations for both schools.
Among the biggest concerns were the entrances to the schools. All of the district’s schools require visitors to be buzzed into the facility by the office staff, but once they are buzzed through the security door there is nothing forcing the visitor to meet with office staff.
“Right now once you get though the door you can go anywhere,” said Spainhoward. “At the high school it would mean putting up a second set of doors. What we want to accomplish is having a way for our visitors to come in and have to talk to the secretary. We want our schools to be welcoming, but this is an added sense of security.”
He told the board that there was Safe Schools money available for the project, but the project would require a BG-1 (permit) to be filed with the state.
Spainhoward said that he has already filed a request to have a safety assessment done on the high school and adjoining middle school next school year.
At the last board meeting food service director Shane Bosaw presented a request to increase the price of school meals. He told the board that the FDA is requiring schools to begin raising meal prices to match the $2.65 that it currently pays for free and reduced lunches. Currently Webster County students pay $1.90 for their lunches.
Board members had several questions about food services’ finances, which Bosaw answered Monday night.
According to Bosaw’s report, the district is currently losing an average of $6,622 per month, up from $5,426 last year. The average monthly income has also dropped from $113,281 to $99,018.
Board members were interested in what difference a price increase would make. A $0.10 increase would generate an estimated $8,082 per school year, while an increase of $0.35 would raise revenue by $28,287.
“We can take all of this into consideration and discuss it at a future meeting,” said board chairman Jeff Pettit. “I think we will probably come to our next meeting ready to discuss it and vote on it.”
In other business, board members heard from Kim Saalwaechter, Supervisor of Assessment & Accountability for Webster County Schools.
“Across the board I am very pleased with fall to winter MAPs results,” Saalwaechter reported. “Usually we see a big dip. We had some classes that stayed the same, but over all, our k-8 in content areas in MAPs saw improvement from fall to winter.”
Saalwaechter said that 5th period at the high school is set aside for ACT prep, but weather over the last month has taken a toll on that program. High school students are scheduled to take the ACT on March 4, 2014, but district officials are working to get that rescheduled.
“They are surveying the districts and looking at the possibility of moving that testing window back because of all the weather events we have had,” she said.
Despite the improvement in the MAPs area, assistant superintendent Alan Lossner is not satisfied.
“Superintendent Galloway, Kim and I had a long discussion,” Lossner said. “One of the things we talked about is that we as a district for several years have been successful at state assessment. This year we tanked. I think one of the reason we have seen a decline is that we have become too complacent. We are prepared to reevaluate our whole way of looking at curriculum and instruction so that we can become a much higher performing district. We are going to look at our whole way of teaching kids and how we hold people accountable.”
“I hope that this board has made it clear that education is our main priority,” said Pettit. “We have got to keep the focus on what you spoke about...our curriculum, our test scores. While we might not agree with what ever system we are placed in, it is our job to make sure that our children are successful in whatever that system is.”
“It is easy for us to make excuses,” said Saalwaechter.  “We can’t make excuses any more.”
Finally, Superintendent Pete Galloway told the board that if students do not miss any more days, the final day of school (for students) will be May 30.

Fiscal Court hears from resident on FEMA flood maps (Sebree and Clay Maps attached)

Lyon County rejects FEMA maps
by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Monday’s Fiscal Court meeting was almost entirely about flooding, or rather the new flood maps that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) is asking counties to adopt. Every seat in the meeting room was filled as residents packed in to voice their opinions.
Judge Executive Jim Townsend was in Washington D.C. The court appointed magistrate Tony Felker of Providence to preside over the meeting.
FEMA Flood Map of Clay (click to enlarge)
At their last meeting, magistrates voted unanimously for the first reading of an ordinance that would adopt the FEMA maps, despite the fact that everyone agreed the maps were incorrect.
“We all know the maps are wrong,” said Magistrate Tony Felker. “We are not going to accept these until they are right. At the last meeting we voted to accept this pending corrections.”
Word that the county was looking to accept the faulty maps was enough to get Webster County residents stirred up. While adopting the new maps could result in residents who live in flood plains to get a lowered insurance rate, it also forces some residents with little to no actual chance of being flooded to purchase the expensive insurance.
Many of the visitors who were present questioned the decision to vote on the maps before they were corrected, but according to county officials it would seem that FEMA is not leaving them any other choice.
“If we don’t accept them and we have a big flood in Webster County, we aren’t going to be protected by FEMA,” Felker said.  “We wont get any FEMA assistance for our roads or our residents.”
“The Kentucky Division of Water has recommended passing the maps but going back and amending them when they are updated,” said County Attorney Clint Prow.
He added that the county technically had until the end of the year to adopt the new maps, but as accepting the maps would have a baring on the public’s insurance rates, something needed to be done as soon as possible.
Several residents said that their insurance companies are already charging higher premiums even though the maps have not been adopted and are according to the court “wrong.”
According to Sebree area magistrate Jerry “Poogie” Brown, in his district there are places listed as being in a flood zone that have not flooded since the flood of 1937.
He also added that a lot of work has been done since 1937 to reduce the odds of a major flood along the Green River.
“The fiscal court has no control over the insurance,” magistrate Tony Felker told the visitors. “But we can work with our congressmen, and I think it would benefit all of you to call your congressman as well.”
Eventually the magistrates voted to wait until Judge Executive Townsend had returned from Washington before deciding whether to approve or reject the FEMA maps.
WC Not Alone
Webster County is not the only county having to deal with these maps. After  initially accepting the maps that they had been offered, Lyon County voted to reject the FEMA maps and withdraw from the program.
FEMA Flood Map of Sebree (click to enlarge)
“I haven’t found any county yet that is happy with these maps,” said Wade White, the Lyon County Judge Executive.
White said that he was initially in favor of adopting the FEMA maps because doing so would help some residents get cheaper flood insurance. But his opinion quickly changed.
“After we decided to join this program, people started getting letters telling them that they had to buy flood insurance up on Lake Barkley,” said White. “FEMA mapped in 70 to 80 homes that are higher than the dam.”
White said that upon seeing what they were dealing with, he went to Washington D.C. to get local congressmen and senators involved. At that point FEMA refused to change the maps.
Not long after that the Fiscal Court voted to withdraw from the program.
“If we were part of that, we felt that we were giving the maps validity,” White explained.
He said that more than thirty Lyon County residents have had their property surveyed and gotten FEMA to overturn the decision. That process costs about $500 and takes 90 days.
White says that since, Lyon and Trigg County have gotten FEMA to agree to redraw their maps.
Webster County’s magistrates will discuss the issue again on Monday, February 27, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. in Dixon.

Kentucky House passes minimum wage increase

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Last week Kentucky law makers passed House Bill 1, a bill that could see the state mandated minimum wage raise by almost three dollars over the next three years.  The final vote came in at 54-44. with representatives Susan Westrom of Lexington and Jim Gooch  of Providence not voting.
Now that the bill has passed the House, it will head to the state senate for consideration.
“I’m encouraged and happy to see my colleagues in the House, both Democrat and Republican, reaffirm that we are committed to the idea that folks who work to earn a living ought to make a living wage,” Stumbo said. “While this increase, less than a dollar an hour staggered over three years, might not sound like a lot to some, I truly believe it will have an enormous impact on the working men and women who are doing everything they can to keep their families going on minimum wage.  We have asked them to stretch their dollars to the breaking point and I think what we have done today is the right thing.”
Stumbo signaled he would move to increase Kentucky’s minimum wage shortly before the start of the 2014 Legislative Session.  Stumbo opted to make raising the state’s minimum wage his top legislative priority after reading a testimonial in his hometown newspaper which spelled out how a full-time employee working 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year would only make $15,080 before paying their first dime of taxes.
Under House Bill 1, Kentucky’s minimum wage would raise from $7.25, where it has stood since 2007, to $8.20 on July 1, 2014. It would raise again each year until the minimum wage is $10.10 in July of 2016. This will help the estimated 400,000 working Kentuckians who make at or below minimum wage. Additionally House Bill 1 will go a long way in securing the financial security of Kentucky’s children. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, 1 in 4 Kentucky children live in a home where at least 1 parent earns the minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage will have an immense effect on the working women in Kentucky trying to raise a family,” said Stumbo. “Bureau of Labor statistics show that a minimum wage worker in Kentucky is more than likely to be a woman, over the age of 25 who has at least one child. That’s who needs this legislation; that’s who deserves this legislation and who have waited long enough for a boost in minimum wage. I’m happy to have my colleagues in the House play a part in offering hard working Kentuckians a chance to get ahead – I hope our friends in the Senate follow suit.”
Kentucky’s minimum wage has been at $7.25 per hour since 2009. In 2007 and 2008 the rate was increased by $0.70 per hour from $5.15. That wage went all the way back to 1998 when the state raised the minimum wage from $4.25.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No school Friday

There will be no school in Webster County tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Providence awaiting motion to rehear law suit

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
A law suit between the city of Providence and the Ohio Casualty Insurance Company stands to be an important case, and not just for the city.
Providence is seeking to get insurance payments from the Ohio Casualty  Insurance Company (OCC), the company that insured the city against losses caused by former City Clerk Sara Stevens. OCC is claiming that, despite the fact that the city paid their bill every year, the policy only pays for a single year’s losses. Stevens was convicted of embezzlement over the years of 2001, 2002 and 2003.
In October of 1997 OCC issued the surety bond to the City of Providence, in which it agreed to indemnify Providence up to the sum of $300,000 for losses caused by various acts and omissions attributable to then city clerk Sara Stevens.
“Providence subsequently terminated Stevens’ employment in May, 2004, upon discovering that Stevens had embezzled city funds in excess of $300,000 over a period of several years,” Appeals Judge Joy A. Moore wrote in a 2012 decision. 
“It took a couple of years to get the first $300,000,” said Providence Mayor Eddie Gooch. He added that at that point OCC felt that it’s obligation to the city was complete. City officials disagreed.
“The city felt that the bond insurance company owed us two more years,” Gooch explained. “They tried to say that it was a one year thing.”
In a May of 2012 decision, the court sent the case back to Webster County Circuit Court over what seems like a technicality.
According to that ruling, Judge Joy Moore and the other two judges on the panel did not like the wording of the lower court’s decision. So the decision was rewritten and sent back to the appeals court.
“I think the court of appeals could have said that it was the obligation of the appealing party to be sure everything was in order, and decided in the city’s favor,” said Providence City Attorney Richard Peyton. “But instead they sent it back to the lower court.”
Judge Williams changed the wording the court had not liked, and the case went back to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The second time, with a different set of appeals judges, the outcome was totally different.
“We disagree with the trial court’s conclusion that the city thought it was buying $300,000.00 of coverage for each successive year of Stevens’ service as clerk,” Judge Christopher Nickell wrote in the appeals court’s decision. “That may well have been the city’s wish and desire after the losses were revealed, but there was no credible evidence they bargained for such language on the relevant date—October 1, 1997.”
Peyton said that the city had filed for a rehearing due to a mistake they allege Judge Nickell made in his decision.
“Things go according to their own schedule,” Peyton said. “If the Court of Appeals has a large work load, you have to wait a long time. If they have a light load you might get a quick decision.”
Regardless of how the petition for a rehearing goes, it could still be some time before Providence would potentially see any money. Regardless of whether the city gets a rehearing or not, ultimately whoever loses the appeals case will most likely seek to move the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
“This is a case that the supreme court would have to decide if it was important enough to take into consideration,” Peyton explained. This process will be handled though a discretionary review.