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BOBBY ALLEN: The Death Of A Community

The Death Of A Community

Bobby Allen

The local high school and the grocery store are staples in all small communities in America. My community (Martin County, KY) has lost both in the past few years.

Martin County does have a brand new high school and, in time, it will become a staple. However, as of January 6, 2020, the local grocery store in Inez will close. Inez has had a grocery store for as long as I can remember.

The reason given is the economy. But the economy in Kentucky, and in America, is booming. I know the economy is not the reason for this closure.

I believe the reason for the “lack of shoppers” at the Inez Shoprite/IGA is the free market. Better quality, bigger selections and lower prices will always win out.

Before anyone jumps to criticize my last statement, I know it is hard for local Independent businesses to compete with chains like Walmart and Food City. I don’t have an answer as to how to change this.

Several years ago I wrote a blog about the death of Martin County and I offered some suggestions. I wish I could find that piece. I know it’s somewhere. I did receive some negative comments but when did negative comments ever bother me?

In that commentary I talked about how Martin County missed the boat while other counties were jumping on and building their communities for the time when “big coal” disappeared. And, for the record and to the dismay of many locals, coal will NOT come back.

Power Plants, like the one just down the road on Rt. 23, spent millions to convert to natural gas. It is highly unlikely they will spend millions more to convert back to coal. Coal is a natural resource that took millions of years to develop. Most of the good coal, like the kind power plants need to generate the heat to create electricity, is gone.

I made this suggestion several years ago I and still stand by it. Instead of building industrial parks, with millions of coal severance dollars, and hoping a company will relocate, lets focus our energy on making Martin County a good place to live.

Lets face the facts. We are to blame for Martin County’s economy. I remember my Dad telling stories of how a business would come to scout Martin County and elected leaders would want something under the table.

One of the stipulations for new businesses to locate in Martin County was they had to hire ONLY Martin County people. Once that stipulation was made clear, the briefcases snapped shut and the courthouse doors slammed shut.

What does it take to make a community a good place to live? I have researched this very question and found the following criteria:

  • The cost of living is relatively low. This refers to property taxes, utility costs, and the cost of living stuff like grocery prices, gasoline prices, etc.
  • The community is safe. The local police force is fully equipped and staffed with enough deputies to serve and protect the community. The community has a qualified fire department that can respond quickly to all types of emergencies. Health care is a priority with 24-hour care and access to hospitals is a short trip.
  • The community has a good school system that consistently graduates young men and women ready for college or career training.
  • The community has reliable and safe drinking water. Yes, that was actually listed as a quality of a good community.
  • The community is clean and provides activities and/or places like parks for people to enjoy.

Martin County does have some of these qualities however we are lacking some and moving backwards with others.

The first quality is one that is hitting us the hardest. The cost of living is very high in Martin County. We are paying relatively high property taxes because of several buildings that were built in recent years. The high cost of water is something that has been discussed many times. The quality of our water has been discussed as well. The big problem I see with this is two-fold. Media loves a controversial story and because of the exposure, some facts have been distorted. On the flip side, we do have serious problems with our water system but some folks refuse to admit it.

Our local police do the best job they can. The biggest problem is the lack of funding to hire deputies. We do have great fire departments, health care is top notch and the ambulance service is very fast and staffed with highly skilled EMT’s and Paramedics.

Our school system has struggled in years past. My last year teaching at Sheldon Clark, our school earned a distinguished rating. This was a big deal since we were a “Persistently Low Achieving –PLA” school just a few years before this. The closing of Sheldon Clark High School hurt the county. The school system lost many students because of the closure.  I actually taught a young man as a freshman at SCHS and again taught him as a senior at Lawrence County High School.

We now have a new high school and the tradition of high quality education is continuing. In a year or so, the new Career & Technical wing will open and hopefully more technical programs will be offered. (In case you don’t know, I am a HUGE supporter of career and technical education.)

I am a little worried about the last criteria for quality living. Several years ago our local sheriff would use people serving time in jail, non-violent offenders, to pick up garbage along the roadsides and to cut grass and weeds at community parks. Due to budget problems this service is no longer feasible.

So, were do we go from here?

First, we have to get away from this “me, me, me” mentality. I would like to see a regional economic development service formed. Wait, we already have one in S.O.A.R. I don’t think Martin County officials work with this. Who cares if Johnson County (or Lawrence, Floyd, Pike) lands an industry? All of these communities are a short drive from Inez.

Second, our officials need to research and find grant money that could help alleviate the cost of our new buildings. The money is out there. We just have to go after it.

Our neighbors across the river in Fort Gay, WV just received a grant to restore the Fort Gay High School. The plan is to convert it into apartments and possibly office space. I must tip my hat to my friend, coworker, and Fort Gay Mayor Joetta Hatfield. By the way, this school was built about the same time the old Martin County Courthouse was built. I wish we could restore our historic building but, if the trend continues, it will be torn down to make yet another glorious parking lot.

If we can find someway to reduce the county’s debt, the tax rate can be lowered. This will have several positive effects on the county. Property values will rise and people might actually want to own land in Martin County. People will have more money to spend since their property tax is lower.

We need to promote what we already have. We live in one of the most beautiful areas in the country. Lets use that to our advantage. Victor Slone, an elected magistrate, has been doing everything he can do to bring in riding trails through Martin County. While this may not be a huge cash cow, riders will need to buy gas, food and snacks while riding the ridges. It is a great idea.

Martin County is home to a huge Elk herd. On any given night, the Airport road is lined with cars and people taking pictures of these majestic creatures. What if we line New Route 3 with Sugar Maples, Red Maples, Black Tupelos, and other colorful fall trees? We could advertise the scenic ride and Elk viewing on travel sites. People would travel this route, stop and buy gas, snacks, and food.

I guess I have rambled on long enough. My wish for 2020 is simple: I wish Martin County Officials will quit pretending everything is good in the county, become more transparent with county business, and, for once, be proactive in making Martin county a great place to live. If something doesn’t happen soon, Martin County will surely die.

Editor’s Note: I’ve known Bobby and his family all my life—his mom was a great Christian woman who loved the Lord (my dad baptized her in the creek in Inez in the 1950’s-Bobby has a picture)… And his dad was a respected educator after his years as a member of the Inez Indians three straight years making it to the state tourney. Bobby is a well known writer and pundit in the area having taught mathematics at Sheldon Clark High School, Lawrence County High School and presently at Tolsia High School. This is his latest insertion on his popular blog: Crooked Run-Stories and Tales from the front porch…


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Comments 15

  1. Bobby Allen says:

    Thanks Mark.

  2. Citizen says:

    Another terribly uninformed liberal. The coal needed to produce electricity isnt gone. There is plenty still in the ground. The last US administration is responsible for killing the coal industry.

    • Charles says:

      but you forgot one thing there are more natural gas and it is cheaper

  3. Former Martin County Resident says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Very well started, and well worth the read.

  4. Reality Bites says:

    Obama made it his mission to cripple the coal industry without a thought nor a care about the impact on the local economy in the area or the workers and families who depend on coal to live, and he boasted on national television that if anyone wanted to operate or build a coal fired power plant that the regulations would be made so costly that it would put them out of business, and that’s exactly what happened. He followed through with his threat. The video is out there…just look it up.

    • Charles says:

      can you explain what is happening in the coal market today since Trump has overturned every regulation Obama did
      got MSHA off the coal companies back they can get any permit they want now
      or is it just plain old capitalism natural gas is cheaper and the gravy coal seams are gone

  5. John says:

    Very good article. Your statement on the power plant converting back to coal is correct. There are not any power companies investing in anything coal. They will slowly keep going away from it. They will only keep what they have operating. Also natural gas is cheaper. With coal there are to many unknowns in the future to keep investing in it . I am very knowledgeable on these facts. One question I have is with all of the coal that came out of Martin County what happened? There is literally nothing there. What happened to growing the county decades ago? Corruption, mismanagement?

    • Citizen says:

      If natural gas is so much cheaper, why has my electric bill gone up and up since the power plant conversion? The fuel itself is cheaper, but it is much more costly to produce electricity with and it cannot produce power like coal can. Luckily, we don’t have very bad winters around here anymore. If we did, you would see how natural gas can’t keep up with coal. I’m sure John, with his vast knowledge of coal (hahaha), will have something to say about this. He is very knowledgeable on these facts, you know.

      • John says:

        Gas is cheaper. The reason your electric bill is higher is because of all the add ons that are on your bill plus you as a customer are paying for the power plant gas conversion. I like everyone else do not agree with these. Coal plants are shut down right now temporarily and the gas plants are running because they are cheaper to run. As far as your remark on my vast knowledge, that’s ok. I spent many years in this industry, both sides utilities and coal. Actually 40 years.

        • Charles says:

          let’s not forget about the coal fired plant we bought in WV it’s also on your bill

          • John says:

            At a cost of 540 million plus. You are also paying to tear one unit down. It is called the decommissioning rider on your bill.

  6. Charles says:

    corruption and mismanagement hit it on the head

  7. Another Allen says:

    I agree with you, Bobby about the economy not being the problem with businesses closing their doors after decades of serving our community. Businesses seem to be opening up everywhere, including some small businesses that have opened up recently in Martin County (The Red Willow, Love You to the Beach and Back, Spirit Stop, K & K Couture, a new gas station/convenient mart being built in town, just to name a few). That being said, what happened to the plans of building a Food City on the property that was developed for a big business to open up at the Rt. 3/Rt. 40 “crossover” bridge? I see that it’s been converted to a soccer field. I, also, heard that FedEx/UPS was interested in building a terminal in the industrial park on airport road which would have created more jobs for our area. I was told that there was a substantial amount of money appropriated for improving/fixing our water system that seems to have disappeared without any one knowing what the money was used for, no record of how it was spent. We now have buildings where 3 businesses closed (old Family Dollar/Rite Aid and IGA buildings) that someone will hopefully buy to put in some businesses that are needed for Martin Countians, not only for the jobs, but to build up the community. I’ll keep praying!

  8. Henry Carter says:

    Couldn’t said it any better myself Bobby that was one of the reasons why I moved to Myrtle Beach because everything that you mentioned that we need in Martin County is here and more I am 555 miles away I lived in Martin county all my life and the only things I have there is my family that I only get to see maybe once or twice a year or Sunday night Dan is going to be a ghost town in 15 years

  9. Praying for MC says:

    Bobby you said it very well. I was class of 99 and now live in Lawrence county, My kids go to school in MC but I had high hopes they would be able to attend Sheldon Clark , but now thats not gonna happen. They make my mom pay for trash pick up they dont even come an get but yet she was a month behind and they were gonna put a lean on her property. In LC if your elderly or disabled U dont pay property tax in MC u do and my mom barely lives on $700 a month. She was a month late and they were threatening selling her taxes off. Its not right and MC is turning into thieves. Taking from the poor. My mom has lived their all her life an now im hoping she will sell and move. Hell she cannot even get water or phone were she lives cause its on a hill. Its sad what MC has turned into. I mean a county as small as it is shouldn’t need 3 court houses, really come on. Its gonna be a ghost town soon, by 2025