By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
A federal initiative called “Promise Zones” wants to provide tools for communities to help them rebound economically.
One regional economic development organization serving Knox County thinks it’s a good fit.
The Knox County Fiscal Court thought so, too.
And that’s why they unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday, authorizing County Judge-Executive J. M. Hall to sign a memorandum of understanding to be a party to a Promise Zone application.
That application is being prepared by the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC), based in London.
The action came during the court’s regular meeting in Barbourville.
Knox is one of eight counties KHIC has designated to be in the project’s area. The others include most of Whitley County, as well as all of Bell, Clay, Harlan, Leslie, Perry and Letcher counties.
The application’s in response to what KHIC called a “devastating loss” of mining jobs in the coal-producing counties they serve since 2009. According to them, around 4,000 direct mining jobs, and 12,000 indirect mining jobs have been lost in eastern and southeastern Kentucky during that time.
Tom Manning-Beavin, KHIC’s Director of Housing, thinks putting Knox County into the zone will be beneficial for the county, as well as for the region.
“If the zone is designated, it would give us a leg up in grant application from federal agencies like USDA (U.S.Department of Agriculture), HUD (Housing and Urban Development), HHS (Health and Human Services) and the Department of Justice. The biggest impact will be to give priority points for federal applications,” Manning-Beavin said after the meeting.
Hall added, “This could help a lot of businesses locate here. It could give tax incentives for them to move here, and employ residents in the county.”
Manning-Beavin mentioned the first round of Promise Zones would have five zones designated. Of those five, one would be a rural zone, which is what KHIC, Berea College, and other partners have applied for.
“There are 27 eligible applicants nationwide, and we are one of them. We think we’ll have a pretty strong application,” he noted.
Information from KHIC described Promise Zones as similar to “Empowerment Zones,” to the extent they’re planned to bring resources from several federal agencies into a small geographic area that’s been economically distressed.
In other actions taken at the session, court members approved rescheduling next month’s regular meeting a week earlier to Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 11:30 a.m. That’s because the fourth Wednesday in December this year is Dec. 25 — Christmas Day.
Speaking of Christmas, approval was also given to the county’s holiday schedule for 2014, which remains the same as this year’s.
Starting in January 2014, county offices will be closed on New Year’s Day (Jan. 1), Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 20), Good Friday (April 18), Memorial Day (May 26), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (Sept. 1), Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11), Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 27-28) and Christmas Day (Dec. 25-26).
Also approved was a new part-time employee at the Knox County Jail, Richard Hicks, who began on Oct. 29.
Hall said blacktop work by county road crews has been completed, and was done before Hinkle Contracting shut their plant down for the winter months. He also told court members the county’s considering doing some mowing work and getting brushes down, which would make it easier for county maintenance crews to do their mowing in the spring and summer months.
In the “Citizens Comments” portion of the agenda, it was noted the monthly “Prayer on the Square” session would be held this Sunday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., and would be moved inside the courthouse in case of bad weather.
Hall noted next Monday begins the first-ever “Spirit of Christmas Festival” in downtown Barbourville, which will feature several holiday events and activities during the week and next weekend.
Presented by Barbourvillle Tourism, the festival includes the lighting of the Christmas Tree in front of the courthouse next Friday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m., and the annual “I Believe in Santa Claus Parade,” which begins at 6 p.m. next Saturday, Dec. 7.