Many attend fiscal court meeting to show support for Wellness Center

Posted May 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm

A packed house crowded the upstairs courtroom and spilled out into the hallways last Thursday evening, with the majority of the close to 100 on hand being there to show support for the Twin Lakes Wellness Center.

The Wellness Center was first up on the agenda for the regular monthly meeting of Clinton Fiscal Court, in which all court members were also on hand.

Judge/Executive Lyle Huff began the meeting by clarifying that the session was not a public hearing as a lot of people had understood would be taking place. The judge told the large contingency that it was a regular court meeting and the public would be given the opportunity to comment and ask questions.

The Wellness Center has undergone some financial difficulties over the past several months for different reasons, and although all its problems weren’t resolved at last weeks meeting, the court did go a long way in helping the Wellness Center Board get back on track financially with a couple of actions that were taken.

The question and comment period, which lasted over an hour and 15 minutes of the total two hour and 20-minute session, including a Power Point presentation by attorney Jesse Stockton, who explained in detail how the facility came to be in its current condition, as well as steps being taken to help get the Wellness Center back in the black and operating on its own.

First, however, Judge Huff introduced Glenn Ross of the MSE Engineering firm, which had done an evaluation of the facility to find ways to reduce energy costs–which is the primary financial problem of the building at the moment.

The engineering firm apparently did find ways that would cut those energy cost by more than half, from about $109,000 per month being expended now to around $50,000 or less. That could be done, according to Ross, by switching the heating source from propane to natural gas and installing a heat recovery unit to the swimming pool–the latter which the majority of those in support of the facility said should remain open.

There had been some suggestions, that as a way to save money, the pool should be converted to a gymnasium. However, a few people in attendance noted that there were already several gyms available in the county, while others who require or need physical therapy said the heated pool was therapeutic in nature and helped a lot of people.

Ross said that if they didn’t do anything else, they should switch from propane to natural gas. He added that whether or not to keep the pool open or convert it to a gym would be a local decision.

The conversion process for both aforementioned items would be around $276,000.

Benny Garland, of South Kentucky RECC, has also been working with the Wellness Center Board, as well as the city and county. He noted the total electric bills owed by the Wellness Center was in excess of $20,000 and said time was getting limited to collect the back amount.

Garland said the RECC was responsible to its co-op members and to the PSC (Public Service Commission) which oversees the utility company. He said the electric co-op needed some assurance that the Wellness Center could move forward in paying the bill.

It was also noted that around $60,000 is owed on propane bills and Stockton estimated that the total debt at the facility right now is close to $100,000.

Stockton said the Wellness Center Board itself has raised over $400,000 to help keep the facility open. He also said that the Center has just over 400 primary members and noted that membership has decreased since the pool has been closed.

Stockton further noted the board was preparing a budget based on the most recently completed energy cost study.

When discussing whether or not local governments could help in paying down the facility’s debt, the LGEA fund was discussed. The county apparently has $186,000 in that account. However, due to the county’s financial condition, it was noted by court members that those funds would have to be used for local services such as the jail and ambulance service to be sustained through the remainder of the current fiscal year.

The positive news came in the form of the grant funds for construction of the facility having not completely run out.

Judy Keltner with the Lake Cumberland Area Development District, who administered the grant money for the approximate $4.1 million total project, noted there was still $275,071 in the line-item to fund repairs and upgrades only. She added those funds could not be used to pay bills.

Judge Huff said that in 2010, the former natural gas company had gone into bankruptcy and said he took responsibility for recommending that propane be used instead. However, he said things changed in 2011 and apparently natural gas is now available.

Magistrate Mickey Riddle, in questioning the amount of the propane bill, asked who gave Haddix (gas company) permission to pump $60,000 into the tank when it couldn’t be paid.

Stockton replied that in part, the board was “hopefully ignorant,” adding that some entities had said they would donate but those donations didn’t come to pass.

Pastor Bobby Grant also noted they couldn’t let the pipes freeze during cold weather and some heat was necessary.

Riddle also implied the (fiscal) court didn’t know how the Wellness Center money was spent, but Grant said the books had been open but admitted that mistakes had been made.

“As chairman, I apologize to the community. I’m not going to point fingers,” Grant said. He added he was there to help keep something good for the community with 24-hour access and predicted that memberships would go back up.

Magistrate Terry Buster asked if there was some way the Wellness Center Board could make monthly payments on some of its bills until it can get caught up.

At one point, County Attorney Michael Rains was asked to read parts of the lease agreement, which began in 2009 and runs for 50 years. That agreement, in part, says the leasee (Wellness Center) is to pay the county $100 per month and also pay all charges for water, electricity, gas, telephone or other utility. Also, taxes, and water and sewer service.

Magistrate Patty Guinn inferred that if the county had the money, they needed to help pay.

Magistrate Ricky Craig also told the crowd on hand that there had been rumors that the city and county was going to close the Wellness Center and added, “That’s simply not true.”

According to grant stipulations, the facility has to remain open as a fitness center and serve 53.3 percent of the low-to-moderate income citizens of the county until at least June of 2016, or, both the city and council could be liable if the facility ceases to operate as such, and be made pay back up to $500,000 each.

The city and county applied for the original funding, with the county being the lead entity.

Judge Huff also noted that the (fiscal) court nor city council was “in the Wellness Center business” and noted they were fortunate to have the leftover grant funds to make the needed conversions to save the facility money.

The judge then opened the floor for some public comments with a few people speaking on behalf of the Wellness Center, some of which received loud rounds of applause.

One person said the main reason they were there was concern for the pool. Another said the Wellness Center she used for herself and her kids, saying fitness was important and that obesity is a major health concern that costs everyone in the long run.

A couple of others who spoke said the pool was important because physical therapy needs for such things as knee and back problems and some said doctors often recommend physical therapy and the pool offers that.

Another frequent visitor to the Wellness Center suggested having fundraisers to help with expenses.

Some other suggestions to help gain memberships would be to offer them monthly, especially in the winter season.

Following the question and answer period, Judge Huff recommended making the MSE recommended conversions to natural gas and HVAC and sign a maintenance agreement with TRANE through June of 2016. He said he believed the Commissioner of the Department of Local Government would waive protocol on the bidding process.

A motion was made by Magistrate Craig to approve the recommendation, using the remainder of the leftover grant money, passed by unanimous vote, with Judge Huff adding “There’s no more (grant) money for the Wellness Center Board.”

Garland again questioned having some assurance that the electric bill would be paid and it was stated the fiscal court didn’t have the money to do it and that LGEA money was set aside for county debt.

Mayor Nicky Smith, who was also in attendance, noted the city didn’t own the Wellness Center property and couldn’t pay the bills for something it didn’t own.

At one point, Magistrate Phillip Parrigin moved to give the city half of the property and split some of the debt. However, after some question of the legality of such a trade-off was made, that motion was withdrawn.

Parrigin said he was uncomfortable paying the electric bill and not the propane gas, then made a motion to give a one-time expenditure to the board of $20,000–with $10,000 each going toward the electric and propane gas bills. That motion, which was seconded by Magistrate Guinn, passed on a 4-2 vote with Magistrates Buster and Hershell Key both voting yes and Magistrates Riddle and Craig voting no.

The two dissenting squires noted after the session their reason for the no vote was the county’s own financial situation and what is stated in the lease agreement was the Wellness Center board pay its own utilities.

Following the aforementioned vote, the Wellness Center discussion ended with the vast majority of people exiting.

The court then went on to discuss and vote on several items of business and a separate article on the fiscal court meeting itself can be found beginning on page 1.