New mayor finds troublesome times in Martin
by Jack Latta
MARTIN — A week after the administation of former Mayor Thomasine Robinson came to a close in Martin, the new mayor says he was greeted by massive debt, looming government takeovers, and peculiar last-minute shenanigans when he took office.
“I expected things to be bad,” new Mayor Sam Howell said. “I didn’t expect them to be as bad as they are.”
Howell says his transition into the mayor’s office has been difficult. He said the simplest tasks are more difficult because several employees have not shown up for work since he took office.
“I have nothing in writing of anybody resigning, but I have six employees who have just not shown up,” Howell said. “Can’t make contact with them. They’ve just not come back. It’s my understanding that they were told they would not have a job when I got in. That’s what other employees have told me.
“It’s kind of put me in a rough spot right now,” said Howell.
Other matters putting Howell in a rough spot include the city’s current finances.
Rumblings of the city of Martin being in debt to Prestonsburg City Utilities began to surface last week, as Howell moved closer and closer to taking up the role as Mayor. On Thursday, Howell reached out to The Times to inform the public of what he calls some very real dangers facing Martin.
According to Howell, the city of Martin is currently $44,000 behind on its water bill to the Prestonsburg City’s Utilities. But Howell said he can’t be certain of much, since the city’s water clerk has not shown up to work.
“My water clerk has gone, I don’t have a water clerk right now,” Howell said.
According to Howell, the city has been collecting the bills from Martin residents, but has not paid Prestonsburg Utilities in over two months. “I’m in the process right now of getting someone in there to send out the bills.”
“I think Oct. 15 was the last time they paid anything,” Howell said.
Howell is also having to get a computer expert to come in to unlock the water clerk’s computer, which requires a password that was not left behind. Howell said he called a repairman to work on the computer, and was told the price would be double due to past unpaid fees accrued by the city.
Howell said he has made a call to the Kentucky State Auditor’s office seeking a full audit of the city of Martin’s finances.
“I have contacted the state auditor’s office about coming in and doing an audit of the city,” said Howell. “We are waiting on that process.”
Howell says the crippling dept is putting the city’s day-to-day operations at risk.
“The city is going to have a trouble right now making payroll and everything,” Howell said. “Bills are behind.”
Howell says in addition to the water bill, there are unpaid debts on phone bills, power bills and other bills.
“We actually owe garages for work,” Howell said. “It’s hard to get a garage to actually work on a city vehicle because of the outstanding bills out there that have not been paid.”
According to Howell, Robinson also allowed a lease to expire with the Floyd County Fiscal Court for the use of the Martin Community Center. City employees reportedly moved the police department and dispatch out of the community center and into the mayor’s office of city hall a week prior to Howell taking office.
“There is no mayor’s office,” said Howell. “I don’t have an office in that building.”
Judge Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall confirmed that ex-mayor Robinson had turned in the keys to him on Monday Dec. 31, the date the lease was set to expire. The city has leased the use of the community center from the county for $1 a year for the last 10 years. The building will be closed to the public until such time as the city can renew the lease.
Marshall said he informed Howell that he would need to get the city council together to give him the power to sign a new lease, and that the lease could be reinstated in two weeks at the next regular meeting of the fiscal court.
Howell said that, while he is in the process of getting the community center back, “There’s actually an outstanding water bill on that building also.”
Howell says city employees under Robinson’s adminstration also moved approximately 10 filing cabinets filled with city records out of city hall and into the Martin police station, a building, Howell says, is abandoned, has holes in the roof and is ready to collapse.
“Nothing over them, nothing to protect them from getting wet,” said Howell. “If we got a big rain they would be destroyed.”
Howell, says he was contacted by authorities and told to secure the records as soon as possible. “A lot of this could have been prevented.”
Howell says another concern is the matter of the sewer plants, which have been much in the news over the last year. The city had worked out financing to begin construction on new lift stations, but has failed to meet any of the compliance demands issued by the state.
An order presented to the city last May by the Enforcement Division of the Kentucky Division of Water has not been met, and the city now has a court date in Franklin Circuit Court to learn its fate.
“She (Robinson) ignored an agreed order with the Kentucky Division of Water,” Howell said.
Due to the consistent failure of the Martin wastewater treatment facility, the service may be taken over by the state, Howell said, and could fall into receivership.
Howell said he plans to be at the hearing and meet with officials with Division of Water to see if there is any way Martin can retain control of the treatment plants. Howell fears that a takeover of the treatment plant would hinder future growth of the city.
A phone number listed to Thomasine Robinson has been disconnected, and all other attempts to seek comment from her were unsuccessful.
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