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Editorial: Waiving booking fees for indigent prisoners creates a bad precedent that will harm our regional jail

While on the surface level the recent decision made by District Judge John T. Chafin in returning confiscated funds to a prisoner who falls into criteria that would make him considered indigent by the courts – a designation basically meaning that he isn’t financially capable of affording court costs and/or legal representation – would appear benign, there is a much more complicated and deeper aspect to the situation to be considered.
Big Sandy Regional Detention Center Administrator Pete Fitzpatrick was recently charged with contempt of court due to taking too long to return confiscated funds after Chafin’s ruling on the prisoner’s indigent status, and this is troubling for a myriad of reasons.
It sets a bad precedent that those who are impoverished can commit crimes worthy of incarceration and avoid paying booking fees to the jail – an institution which already struggles enough with facility upkeep, payroll, overpopulation and various other expenses – and thereby remove a totally justified revenue stream for the jail to maintain itself. The best advice for indigent persons in this situation is that if they can’t afford a $130 booking fee, they might be more cautious about breaking the law, especially if they have more than $130 on their person at the time they’re on the wrong side of the law.
If one takes into consideration the number of folks presently incarcerated at the BSRDC, a number presently sitting at 320 people (many of which would likely be considered indigent and are presently being represented by a public advocacy attorney) and the $130 dollars apiece that booking fees represent, it is easy to see how such a precedent could stand to have a rippling impact on our regional jail. If each of the present prisoners were to be refunded their booking fees, the jail would stand to lose approximately $41,600 – a possibly fatal blow for a facility already operating on meager funds. Who would bear the brunt of the resulting financial proverbial kidney shot? The taxpayers.
There is also the damage that a situation like this does to the working relationship between two normally closely-affiliated and cooperative officials. A division like this in the local justice system can cause interpersonal rifts and tension where they are not necessary and serve to the detriment of all involved – the courts, the jail and the prisoners – who will find that the entire legal process in the region can be slowed or halted by a lack of communication.
Our suggestion?
Chafin and Fitzpatrick need to sit down and discuss the finer workings of the financial situation the jail presently faces and weigh whether such a precedent can be justified. Those considering committing a crime might want to also consider their financial situation and whether they would be able to afford paying booking fees rather than passing yet another expense for their misconduct on to local taxpayers. Many branches of our local government (and most everyone else) could learn the same lesson insofar as communication is concerned, and it would be to the benefit of our entire region.

Darts & Laurels

Laurel: Kudos to the Paintsville Masonic Lodge No. 381 for donating a total of 12 bicycles to three local elementary schools to be used as an attendance award for students in the spring. This is not only excellent community service through charitable works, but also serves as a way to boost average attendance at the schools and help them secure much-needed state funding.

Laurel: Kudos to various community organizations for their contributions, including donating food and supplies to families in need as well as those who hosted community Thanksgiving dinner, such as Encounter Missions. It is amazing in its own right that there are so many active community support organizations in Johnson County that it is impractical to list all of the wonderful people who came together to make the holidays a little better for those who might be down on their luck.

Laurel: Kudos to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for the bust of two men allegedly attempting to break into the home of Amanda Meade, who is presently incarcerated at the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center. These types of scenarios show that our local law enforcement enforces the law fairly for everyone, even if they become a victim after running afoul of the law themselves.

Laurel: The Johnson Central High School football team will be heading to face Franklin-Simpson High School in the state championship after defeating Wayne County in the semi-finals with a score of 43-24. The Johnson Central football team has clearly evolved, as evidenced by their consistent participation in state-level play and the amount of state championships being brought home to Johnson County can only benefit our community – praise is in order for administrators and coaching staff that allow our kids to frequently excel at such a level.

Editorial: Watts going on

No one can deny that AEP is a great community partner. Each year they give away millions of dollars to local charities, schools, non-profits and economic development programs. They hire veterans, they help consumers use less energy and have decreased carbon dioxide emissions greatly.
Each year the power giant makes billions of dollars and they have a solid financial performance. They donate to places in Eastern Kentucky on a regular basis. Recently AEP announced that they gave away $400,000 to 12 Eastern Kentucky economic development projects in addition to another big donation to area schools.
In May 2017, they put out a bid request for Powder River Basin coal to be used at some of their generation sites. That request was their second request this year, which tells you they are still burning coal somewhere for the generation of electricity.
They have many programs designed to help consumers save money and use less energy. And that they like to hire veterans shows their commitment to help American heroes.
This all is consistent with the words from their president in 1934, George Tidd who said, “We are citizens of each community we serve and take an active part in its affairs. Like any other citizen, we want our neighbors to think well of us. Besides, it makes good business sense. We prosper only as a community prospers; so, we help it thrive in every way we can.”
That statement was profound and is still relevant today as they have kept true to that statement ever since. However, in 1934 no one could have predicted what may happen 83 years down the road.
The EPA shut down the coal industry forcing companies like AEP to use alternate fuel stock for their power generation. They converted to natural gas, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which was passed along to their customers. And since they are a public company they have shareholders to answer to for profitability.
In Kentucky, we have enjoyed the cheapest energy rates. And that’s partly because cheap coal offered an abundant amount of power for the end user, in turn cheap coal offered good profit margins that didn’t require massive rate hikes.
I would encourage the company to revisit the words of Mr. Tidd. If they are truly committed to be great community partners and want to invest in communities they serve, they may consider sacrificing a portion of their profits to do so. The consumer was hit with a fee to remove the coal towers that we will be paying for until the mid- 2020’s. That expense should have been theirs.
Some of the added charges and fees are part of what goes to the economic development projects, which we are truly lucky to have. AEP should supply each customer with a donation receipt so the customer can claim their portion of the fees they paid to AEP on their taxes.
AEP has done very great things and has been challenged to do some not-so-popular things. Former President Greg Pauley was extremely transparent in their decisions. He apologized for the pinch we all had to feel but he said that was part of doing business. I respect that openness.
I hope the investments that AEP is making in the communities in which they serve have a lasting effect. And I hope the end-result of those investments materializes quickly as the consumer has been beat up and is in need to reenergize their assurance.
Thanks for reading the Paintsville Herald.

Darts & Laurels

Laurel: The Veteran’s Referral Center hosted its 10th Annual Veteran’s Day Telethon Sunday, marking ten years of bringing the community together to help the veterans in our area – we are always thankful when a non-profit organization is able to affect a positive change in our area and continue to do so far after its inception.

Laurel: The Johnson County Fiscal Court voted to authorize reallocating some leftover coal severance funds Thursday, most of these funds will go to volunteer fire departments in the area that need new equipment. The remainder will go to the Johnson County Senior Citizens Center and help fund the services they provide, such as Meals on Wheels. This responsible use of coal severance money by the fiscal court provides maximum benefit to the county with these increasingly limited funds.

Laurel: The Johnson County Schools Board of Education recognized two of its employees at last month’s board meeting for their long careers of exemplary service to the school district. This is a good practice for any employer to take up – don’t only point out the negative in your employees, recognize when they do well or go above and beyond. It creates an atmosphere of positivity and empowerment.

Laurel: The Johnson County Middle School’s football team took home a state championship over the past week. This is a remarkable feat and goes to further show the sports dominance that Johnson County has maintained throughout the years through excellent coaching and determined players. Good job, Eagles!

Editorial: The link between fiscal responsibility and building a better tomorrow

As both public and private organizations ready themselves for the new fiscal year starting on Nov. 1, this is a good time to take a second look at budgets to see if projected expenditures are necessary in the face of expected revenues. When facing up to our fiscal responsibilities, it is smart to take the long-term approach.
We should take pride in our hard-won economic advancement over the past 15 years in the face of a declining coal industry. However, at the same time, our local budgets have been cut to the bone, and it becomes tempting to spend a little more, to take out a small loan, or to reach just beyond what can be afforded to reach a goal.
As a nation, we are slowly climbing out of an economic recession. However, as a county in one of the poorest areas of the country, we need to be far more careful with our limited resources. While we reach for the stars for a better future, we need to keep within our financial goals, even if it means taking a more patient approach.
Constructing and maintaining a fiscal budget is an important first step. The larger challenge, however, is to reform our expectations of how to pay for non-essential items and projects to the day-to-day operation of our local government programs.
Fiscal responsibility is essential to creating a better, stronger, more prosperous town for the next generation. The choices we make today — or fail to make -- will determine what kind of future our children and grandchildren inherit 20 and 40 years from now.
Our county’s economic future and fiscal responsibility are directly linked. There is a tie between budget deficits today and what our community can enjoy tomorrow. So while taking out an extra loan today may solve short-term problems, that is funding taken out of the hands of our future successors when they have to pay the bills.
Facing up to both the short and long-term fiscal challenges will help put us on a path to lasting prosperity and a rising standard of living.

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