VICCO – When Johnny Cummings was appointed Vicco’s new mayor in February, there was some work to be done.
The city was $200,000 in debt, and owed Knott County approximately $90,000 for water services. Different agencies in Frankfort were issuing citations to the city because, as the mayor noted, “nothing was up to par.”
The city’s water system was running at a loss of 50 percent, and during his second day Cummings found out that pumps in the city’s sewage system were failing. As a result, sewage was backing up into a local waterway.
Things are now getting fixed in Vicco, however, and on Tuesday Cummings handily won his first election for a full two-year term against former mayor and current commissioner Ernest Back. Cummings, who had previously served as a city commissioner for a number of years, won in a landslide, garnering 70 percent of the vote.
And now that he’s got a full term ahead of him, Cummings said he hopes to revitalize his hometown one project at a time.
The mayor’s main priority is to rehabilitate the city’s sewer plant, which he noted at present is only operating at 30 percent. A new plant would be ideal, but with a price tag of upwards of $3 million dollars, that project is cost-prohibitive. The next best thing will be to improve current infrastructure, and plans are in place and money set aside to rehab the plant, located just off of Highway 15.
“The sewer plant is my main objective,” Cummings said. “We’ve got to get it going.”
But before those plans can even get off the ground, the city will need to build a bridge so that concrete trucks can get to the site and construction can begin. That’s a cost of about $70,000 in itself, but Cummings said he expects everything to be in place for the bridge project within three months.
“We’ve got the money for the repairs, and I’m scraping money together for the bridge,” he said, adding that funds for the bridge were originally allocated out of coal severance. But with coal production down, severance funds are uncertain. Even still, there are some projects that have to move forward.
“There’s some things you cannot afford not to fix,” the mayor said.
Cummings will also be using his term in office to work with the city commission on community-oriented projects. The city recently purchased a lot on the town’s main drag and cleared it out, and officials have applied for grants in the hopes of building a community center and park.
Vicco may be small, but it’s got a potential to become the point of convergence for the community, Cummings said, and that’s a goal toward which the city is now working.
After the tornadoes ravaged West Liberty and other communities this past spring, Vicco, a city of 334 people according to the last census, served as a staging point for relief supplies which were eventually dispersed to affected areas. Cummings said he later received an email from a woman who noted that the Vicco community had done more for relief efforts than others, and tagged the town as the “little city with a big heart.”
The town is made up of what Cummings called wonderful people, and there is that sense of community that he said he wants to tap with projects like the park and community center.
“We’ve got to have a place for the community to all meet together,” he said. “If we have the community center, the park with shelters, I think that will be a start. As times get tougher, we’re really going to have to depend on each other.”
And as one project is completed, Cummings expects to move on to the next one. He hopes to begin some repaving of the city’s streets by next spring, and encourage ongoing community events like the recent Halloween celebration that drew over 500 people.
The mayor’s office has also been receiving help from other officials on local projects, including Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble, Sen. Brandon Smith, and Rep. Fitz Steele. Even with help, though, the economy continues to sputter. Vicco, like nearly every other local government, is operating on a tight budget, and that will dictate just how much can get done in the coming months.
While Cummings noted that he will wait to see how much he can get done in his next term before he decides on running for re-election, for now he’s taking things as they come.
“It’s just one little step at a time,” he said.