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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Slaughters Commission votes to raise water rates


by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The Slaughters Commission met earlier this month at the Slaughter’s city office building.
The commission accept edthe second reading of the amendment to raise water rates to $23.90 inside city limits for minimum 2,000 gallon usage, $25.90 outside city limits for minimum 2,000 gallon usage, and $31.50 commercial rates for minimum 2,000 gallon usage effective February 1, 2014.  Usage rates over 2,000 gallons will not change.
In other business, commissioners turned a nuisance violation over to the city attorney. According to city clerk Terry Link there is a dilapidated building in town that has become a safety hazard.
The commission tabled discussion of creating an event called Tractor Days. Last year Independence Bank sponsored a Tractor Ride that started in Slaughters. This year the city is looking to work with the bank to create an event called ‘Tractor Days’ to go along with the tractor ride.
“The other communities in Webster County all have a celebration and the commission is trying to come up with something for Slaughters,” said Link. “Debbie Winstead of Independence Bank will be meeting with the board at the February meeting to discuss date and activities.”
Slaughters Commission meetings are held at 6:00 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month.

School board welcomes new Superintendent, begins search for replacement


by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Last Tuesday’s Webster County School Board meeting was not only the first meeting of 2014, it was also the board’s first meeting with new Superintendent Pete Galloway. Galloway was appointed at the December 16, 2013 meeting following the resignation of long time school board superintendant Dr. James Kemp.
“It’s been a month since you gave me the chance to do this job,” said Galloway. “At that time I did not know one person in Webster County. Since then I have had the chance to meet a lot of people.”
He told the board that what has impressed him the most was an event he had attended at Providence Elementary on the last Friday before the Christmas Break.
“Mickey Dunbar and I were both at a send off for a little girl who was given a wonderful opportunity by Make-A-Wish,” Galloway said. “The kids at that school...I can’t tell you how appreciative it made me to see how much they cared about that little girl. I guarantee if you asked them at the end of the year to name the top five thing that happened during the school year, that would be on every list.”
Galloway will only fill the superintendant’s chair until the board selects a permanent replacement, which is expected to be in the early summer. Until then he has been tasked with overseeing the search for his replacement.
He told the board that he began to process soon after being appointed. Applications for the Superintendant’s position will be taken through the end of February. Meanwhile, Galloway has been working to assemble the screening committee that will conduct the initial interviews with candidates.
According to Galloway the committee will be made up of two teachers, two parents, and administrator and one person of the board’s choosing. Due to the minority population in Webster County, one of those six people must be a minority. If the initial six does not include a minority representative, then the parents will have to elect one.
“Once the committee is chosen, I will meet with them and go over the guidelines,” Galloway said. “They will screen the candidates but it will be up to the board to tell them how man candidates to send on to you.” 
He told the board members that they would have an opportunity to address the committee, but asked if they had any specific things that they wanted to instruct the committee to look for.
“I would like someone with experience as our new sup,” said Leland Steeley, the Sebree area board member. “Someone from a successful school who has been an integral part in that success.”
“Experience,” agreed Venita Murphy from Providence, stressing that she was not looking for a first time Superintendant.
“Someone that can inspire our district and create a culture where people want to come to school and work,” said board chairman Jeff Pettit. “We did not get where we are over night, but we need to get it turned around over night.”
The remainder of the meeting was all the formalities of approving bills and personnel. This included approving a salary change for the WCHS assistant baseball coach. At the request of new head coach Zack Traylor the $1,000 stipend normally spent on an assistant coach will be split to pay two assistant coaches ($500 each).
At the next meeting, on Monday, January 27, 2014, the board expects to hear from a representative of the Kentucky School Board Administration about the new “e-meeting” format the board has adopted.

10-digit dialing less than two week away


 Everybody who works or lives in area code 270 has only two weeks left to get into the habit of making 10-digit local calls.
       “If you still need to update the automatic dialing in your telephone, computer, fax machine or other telecommunications devices, now is the time to do it,” Kentucky Public Service Commission Chairman David Armstrong said. “The end of seven-digit local calling in area code 270 is almost here.”
       Mandatory 10-digit dialing for local calls begins Feb. 1, when area code 364 is added to the same geographic area as the current area code 270. That date also marks the end of the “permissive dialing” period during which customers can dial either seven or 10 digits when making local calls in area code 270.
       The permissive dialing period allows customers to get used to the new dialing pattern and permits telecommunication providers to prepare and test equipment in advance of the establishment of the new area code.
       An informational video about the permissive dialing period is available on the PSC YouTube channel:




       Area code 364 was created in December 2012 when the PSC decided that the best way to meet the need for more telephone numbers in area code 270 was through the creation of an overlay, which superimposes a new area code over an existing area code.
       “Keep in mind that nobody’s current number changes on the first of February,” Armstrong said. “The only change is to the dialing requirement.”
       The overlay option is the least disruptive for all customers and imposes the smallest cost on businesses in the area, the PSC said in its order creating area code 364. This is the first area code in Kentucky created by an overlay.
        Dialing 1 for local calls is not necessary now and will not be necessary after Feb. 1. Local calls will not become long-distance calls.
       In its December 2012 order, the PSC noted that public comments received in the case overwhelmingly favored an overlay. The other option was to split area code 270 and designate a portion as area code 364, with both landline and wireless customers in the affected portion required to change their area code as a result.
       The PSC noted that area code overlays have become the preferred method for creating new area codes nationwide. Overlays pose the fewest technical issues for implementation by an increasing complex telecommunication industry, the PSC said.
       The first numbers using area code 364 may be assigned beginning March 3, 2014. Area code 270 numbers can be assigned after that date, but their availability will depend on how many remain in the inventory of each individual service provider.
       Service providers in area code 270 are required by the PSC to educate their customers about the changes resulting from the new area code.
       All records in the area code case are available on the PSC website, psc.ky.gov. The case number is 2012-00129.
       The PSC is an independent agency attached for administrative purposes to the Energy and Environment Cabinet. It regulates more than 1,500 gas, water, sewer, electric and telecommunication utilities operating in Kentucky and has approximately 90 employees.        

TEN THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT KENTUCKY’S NEW AREA CODE

1. All current area code 270 numbers remain unchanged. Everyone with a 270 area code number can keep it. Nobody is required to change their area code or phone number.
2. The overlay affects both landline and wireless services.
3. Area code 364 will be overlaid on top of area code 270. That means that area codes 270 and 364 will occupy the same physical space beginning March 2014.
4. In order to distinguish between phone numbers with area code 270 and those with area code 364, 10-digit dialing will be required for all local calls within the overlay.
5. Ten-digit dialing also will be required for local calls into or out of the overlay in those areas that now allow seven-digit  local calling across the area code 270 boundary.
6. Ten-digit dialing means dialing the area code before dialing the number itself – for example: 270-555-1212 or 364-555-1212.
7. Long-distance calls within the overlay will require 11-digit (1-plus) dialing, just as long distance calls to other area codes do now.
8. A transition period, known as permissive dialing, began Aug. 3, 2013, and will end Jan. 31, 2014. During that time, local calls can be made using either seven-digit or 10-digit dialing.
9. On Feb. 1, 2014, 10-digit dialing for local calls will become mandatory in the area code 270/364 territory.
10. Numbers with area code 364 may be distributed beginning March 3, 2014. Telecommunication service providers may continue to distribute 270 numbers for as long as they have any remaining in their inventories.
 FOLLOW THE PSC ON TWITTER @KYPSC

Family Dollar to open Sebree location


by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
According to Cliff Cermak, Community Affairs Specialist with the Family Dollar Corporation, the North Carolina-based retailer plans to open a new Sebree location later this year.
“Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot I can give you on when construction will begin, but we can say that the store will be opening in late Spring 2014,” Cermak said. “In March we should have a better idea of the grand opening date.”
The new store is expected to be built on a lot at the corner of Highway 41 North and Highway 56, former location of a restaurant that burned last year.
During the last year the retail chain has moved from being located in strip malls to a “stand alone” image, as can be seen at the new Providence and Madisonville locations. That new image includes an expansion of products and services to what the store once offered.
“We are very excited to bring the Sebree community this new Family Dollar store,” said Cermak. “You’re going to find a wide variety of merchandise in our stores—from food, including frozen and refrigerated foods; health and beauty products; apparel for men, women and children; great home d├ęcor; seasonal merchandise and much more, all at everyday low prices. Plus, we carry all the same national brands as grocery and drug stores—Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Tide, etc.—and at prices typically lower than groceries and drug stores.”
The first Family Dollar store opened in Charlotte, NC in 1959. 21-year-old Leon Levine believed he could offer his customers a variety of high-quality, good value merchandise for under $2.
“The basis was providing families with value and convenience,” Cermak said. “This hasn’t changed in over 54 years. Today, we have more than 8,000 stores in 46 states in rural and urban markets alike. Regardless of location, our stores provide value and convenience to customers in easy-to-shop neighborhood locations.”

Clay residents to see water rate increase


by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Starting in either March or April, Clay water customers can expect to pay an additional eight dollars a month.
The water rate increase is just one of a number of increases that customers will need to be aware of in the coming months. Also on that list are increases to the “cut on” fee charged to customers who are disconnected due to not paying their bills, and increased tap on fees for new water, gas and high pressure customers.
According to city clerk Julie Rhye, this will be the first water rate increase that Clay customers have seen in 15 or 16 years.
For communities, such as Clay, the only source of income is taxes and utilities. Each year the cost of paying employees goes up, as does the cost of supplies used to maintain utilities and other city services. In order to keep up with increasing expenses, cities need to either raise taxes or increase their utility rates.
In Clay’s case, for a number of years auditor Mike Overby has recommended each time he presented his annual audit that the city increase utility rates.
Clay also saw a loss in the areas of water, gas and sewer in the last fiscal year, meaning that the city’s largest source of income took a loss.
According to Rhye, the majority of Clay’s water customers pay the minimum bill, which includes anything up to 2,000 gallons of water. Currently those customers pay $17.50. When the rate increase is passed, that bill will go up to $25.50 per month.
For the next 2,000 gallons the rate will go from $0.05300 per gallon to $0.0600 per gallon. A third level, which is anything over 4,000 gallons would increase from $.04 to $0.49 per gallon, but according to Rhye, this will not affect anyone as there are no major industries on Clay water.
Other increases
•New water tap from $200 to $350.
•Gas tap from $350 to $400.
•Fee to have a gas meter increased from $5 to $10 a month.

Another major concern of the city council has been the cost of dealing with customers who do not pay their bills on time.
“Right now, on the 20th of the month utility bills are mailed out,” said Rhye. “If they are not paid by the 7th, they are charged a late fee. Late notices are mailed out on the 10th. Services are cut on the 17th.”
According to city officials, it is common for the customers to arrive soon after their services have been stopped wanting their utilities turned back on. Clay has gas customers all the way from Highway 109 in Providence to Wheatcroft, meaning that in many cases city employees have to drive quite a distance to stop and restart services. This costs the city both gas and a loss of manpower.
When the increases are passed, the price of restoring services will be increased from $35 to $60. This increase, however, will be limited to customers of water and gas who were cut-off due to non-payment. It will not effect customers who ask for  their gas or water to be shut off during the summer or while they are on vacation.
Mailing two bills to customers is a cost that the city no longer wants to handle.
“It’s costly to send late notices every month,” Rhye said, saying that currently city attorney Ben Leonard is looking to see if the city can stop sending late notices.
There will also be a charge of $1.00 for customers who do not bring a copy of their bill with them when they come to pay their bill.
“If a customer comes in without a bill, we have to print a receipt,” Rhye explained. The payment system the city uses requires that a receipt or a copy of the bill be posted along with the payment. “But this change is still a few months away. We just want to make people aware that it is coming.”
In other business, council members heard the first reading of a business license ordinance that has been in the works since last summer. The ordinance will require any outside business who sell items door-to-door to register at the city building upon arriving in town.
The ordinance came up following a group of women who were in Clay last year selling magazines door-to-door. Many residents reported that the women were pushy, often attempting to gain entry to people’s houses even after being told that the resident was not interested.
Rhye said that when summoned to the city office, their behavior continued to be suspect. She said that one woman submitted what she considered a fake ID, while another woman refused to provide any identification. When they were told that the Clay police wanted to meet with them, the group left town.
“We don’t want people to think that this means it is safe to let someone into your house,” Rhye stressed. “This is just the city’s way of making sure we have a copy of their ID and license plate. You have to use your own judgement on who you let into your house.”

Century Seeks to buy power on open market, Big Rivers looks to bounce back


by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
For the second time within the last twelve months, Big Rivers Electric looks to lose one of it’s biggest customers. 
Century Aluminum in Sebree, formerly Rio Tinto Alcan, contributes roughly $165 million in annual revenue to the Henderson County based power plant. Century has already announced that they will no longer be purchasing electricity from Big Rivers as of January 31, 2013.
Earlier this month executives with Century demanded that the Sebree based aluminum smelter be granted the right to purchase power on the open market, otherwise they planned to close the 520-employee plant.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) is expected to render a decision on the issue before January 31, 2014.
Last summer Century Aluminum made the same move with their Hawesville, Kentucky based plant. State legislators granted the Hawesville plant, which paid Big Rivers $205 million annually, that right. Since then Century has purchased the Sebree plant and now seeks the same rights in that location as well.
The loss of Century in Sebree brings Big River’s lost revenue over the last year to roughly $370 million. The power supplier is looking to offset the loss with a $70.4 million rate increase on it’s other customers. That’s roughly the same amount of money that Century expects to save by purchasing their power on the open market.
The PSC has until April to render a decision on the rate increase.
“Unfortunately, cost cutting alone won’t eliminate the financial deficiency that will result from them leaving our system,” Marty Littrel, the Managing Director Communications and Community Relations. “It’s been very difficult for Big Rivers, but we’ll have to idle our Wilson plant that’s located in Ohio County this February and our Coleman Plant located in Hancock County this summer.  Combined we’ll be losing 188 employees due to the situation created by the aluminum smelters.   This entire situation was due to low aluminum prices NOT electric rates.  Those two plants used about $136 million per year of west Kentucky coal, so there are ripple effects from our plant closures on top of the job losses for Big Rivers employees.  Again, it’s very difficult times for us right now.  Our employees have been very dedicated by safely and reliably operating these generating units during the current times.  We’ve been very blessed to have such a dedicated workforce.”
In the meantime, Littrel said that Big Rivers is looking to offset the loss of revenue by putting off passing the expense on to their customers, which include electric cooperative Kenergy.
“Big Rivers and its Member-Owners (Kenergy, Jackson Purchase Energy and Meade County RECC) have decided to ask the PSC to approve increasing the utilization of its Reserve Funds to entirely offset the rate increase created by Rio Tinto Alcan terminating its retail electric service agreement,” he said. “We’ll use these funds until they are depleted.  By using the reserve funds, the estimated “system-wide” electric rate increases will not affect customer bills until the following time frames:
•Residential and commercial customers WILL NOT be affected until April 2015.
•Large industrial rates WILL NOT be affected until July 2014.
Big Rivers is already looking at replacing the Century contracts with others. According to Littrel, Big Rivers is a finalist for several energy proposals in Nebraska and Oklahoma.
“I’m limited to discuss because of confidentiality concerns, but we are in talks with several utilities across the country, plus Big Rivers and its distribution owners have been courting some large economic development prospects within the state.  Again, in time, I’m confident we’ll be successful in mitigating the rate increases as we are still a low cost producer of electricity.”