Half of candidates for magistrate and judge/executive who responded to a survey by The Mountain Eagle say the fiscal court should not hire an economic development director for Letcher County.
Most who said “no” cited money as the reason, and of those who said it should hire a director, a third qualified their opinion by saying it shouldn’t be done immediately because of budget concerns.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of only 6,562 people were in the labor force in Letcher County during 2016 with 5,782 employed. In 2007, there were 8,747 in the labor force here and 8,098 working. The Great Recession began in December of that year when the housing bubble burst.
No statistics are available for 2017.
Nearly two-thirds of candidates for the offices did not return the questionnaire, which asked candidates’ stance on 20 issues that have come before the Letcher County Fiscal Court over recent months, or have been discussed in the community. Some who returned the questionnaire did not answer all the questions.
Questions covered general economic development, tourism and coal specifically, litter, taxes and fees, and a variety of other subjects.
Questionnaires were sent out the last week of February to mailing addresses listed by the candidates on their filing forms, and candidates were asked to return them by March 8. The deadline was stretched out until last week in an attempt to help voters make the best decision possible in the coming election.
Candidates who returned the questionnaires are: County Judge/Executive candidates Terry Adams and Mica Smith Johnston, both Republicans; District 1 Magistrate candidate Jack Banks, also a Republican; District 2 Magistrate candidates Curt King, Don McCall and Sherry Sexton, all Democrats; District 3 Magistrate candidates Codell Gibson and Emory “Fudge” Mullins, both Democrats; District 4 Magistrate candidates Roger Back and Melody Coots, both Democrats, and Robert “Sarge” Howard, a Republican; and District 5 Magistrate candidate Johnathan Belcher, a Democrat.
Answers given by the candidates to general economic development questions are below. Stories about the other questions will be published in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: Should the county hire a full-time economic development director?
Terry Adams — Yes. (It) should be a people-oriented person that is self-motivated with the ability to deal with issues related to small and large business. Paid at least $35,000 per year on a performance basis. (The position should be paid) through economic assistance grants.
Mica Smith Johnston — (This candidate filled in “These are not yes or no questions” in the space provided for yes or no answers.) Yes, when the county has a balanced budget and laidoff county workers are back to work. Continual economic growth is needed.
Jack Banks — Yes. Having an economic director would help tremendously to achieve goals on getting low-interest loans, (and) grant writing for business opportunities in our county. This would allow our county judge to concentrate on managing the different county departments and budget issues. This person should have a degree in local government and community growth. While I say we need one we must first have the funds available to hire them.
Curt King — Yes, but I believe we should hire a fulltime economic development coordinator (E.D.C.), the national average salary for an Economic Development Coordinator is $49,162 in the United States, more than $30,000 less than a director level, which makes it more sustainable. I believe the qualifications should be at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, preferably in economics or another business-related field. I would pay for it by selling residentially-zoned lots around Fishpond Lake
Don McCall — No. That’s the problem. There is no money to hire an economic development director.
Sherry Sexton — Yes. We need someone whose sole focus is to bring new business and industry to Letcher County. Without coal jobs, our people are suffering. We need comparable paying jobs and without someone focusing on that daily we are going to lose out to other areas that do. (Director should have) at least a bachelor’s degree in economic development or marketing, five years of experience in one of those fields. $40,000- $50,000 so that you attract a good candidate.
Codell Gibson — No.
Emory Fudge Mullins — No. (We) don’t need full time. They can still do a good job and help the county.
Roger Back — Yes. We need someone who serves full time and their main job is to help bring economic opportunity in all areas of the county, including help find funding for projects that will bring new business and industry to the county. They should have experience in local and regional business. They should receive a fair and competitive pay compared to other county and city directors. If the budget will not allow it, then we must seek additional revenue.
Melody Coots — No, the Letcher County Fiscal Court has access to the KAED for their economic development resource and at this time with our county’s economic development budget for an economic developer would not be justified. The KAED (Kentucky Association Economic Development) gives our county opportunity for a foundation of growth and prosperity … And right now this county has to pull together and multi-task to reach the goal of the people.
Robert “Sarge” Howard — No, because we can’t afford it.
Robert Belcher — No. The goals of this position should be handled by the fiscal court. Being able to maintain and develop local infrastructure should already be something they do. We can’t afford the employees we have. Why burden the coffers with more strain?
QUESTION: Should Letcher County invest in programs to help local entrepreneurs?
Terry Adams — We should offer assistance to local business. If all local businesses could grow, they would hire more local workers. This would enhance our local economy. Money generated through a comprehensive recycling program could fund this effort.
Mica Smith Johnston — (This candidate filled in “These are not yes or no questions” in the space provided for yes or no answers.) Local business is the key to helping thrive in our area. Assistance to these businesses is vital and can be explored once the budget is balanced.
Jack Banks — Yes. We do need to promote our young entrepreneurs by encouraging them to remain here.
Curt King — Yes. While I believe we need entrepreneurial assistance available to our citizens, I don’t believe we have the revenue to fund it. However, if we organize this service into a nonprofit organization, I believe that there are many leaders in our community that could volunteer resources and time to help with this opportunity. We have many highly educated and business oriented individuals who could volunteer to help new business owners along. I believe we should try this avenue first and if it doesn’t work, we could investigate other sources of funding such as grants.
Don McCall — Yes. Although we can’t invest money, there are other ways to help and encourage entrepreneurs. We can share information, resources and contacts.
Sherry Sexton — Our economic development director should offer assistance with learning to fill out tax documents, liquor licenses, loan applications and marketing skills to small businesses. We need to encourage and assist more people with opening businesses.
The economic development director’s salary would be the only expense, and be paid with gas and oil fees.
Codell Gibson — Yes. Education.
Emory “Fudge” Mullins — Yes. No money spent, just have a group of businessmen to help guide them with questions (and) answer how they succeeded.
Roger Back — (This candidate did not answer this question.)
Melody Coots — No, at this time there is no extra money that can be disbursed. Once the manner may be taken up before the fiscal court, I’m sure the members as a whole could come up with incentives for entrepreneur assistance.
Robert “Sarge” Howard — Yes. We should encourage business starting in our area by our own people by offering incentives, such as first year business license exception or discounted, free trash pickup for the first six months or year, things along these lines.
Robert Belcher — Even if money isn’t available, resources should be at hand for anyone seeking to start up locally in Letcher County. If appropriate, tourism money, set aside by restaurant tax, should be used.
QUESTION: Should Letcher County use incentives to attract industries from other locations to Letcher County?
Terry Adams — We should accommodate businesses looking to locate here through tax breaks and low lease options on existing county buildings. We should form a county natural gas municipality so we could offer low cost energy to heat large buildings and also be able to offer the same to our citizens.
Mica Smith Johnston — (This candidate filled in “These are not yes or no questions” in the space provided for yes or no answers.) We are a community rich in culture and history. We have more to offer than most give us credit for we need to explore options to bring in tourism and economic growth in order for our people to stay here.
Jack Banks — Yes. We could offer them incentives such as tax breaks or other similar offers, once we get a better handle of our county budget.
Curt King — Yes. For example, every day we have truckloads of lumber leaving Letcher County for processing in other locations. I believe we could offer term incentives through things like tax breaks that would attract those companies to our industrial sites. Also, industries that are not focused on shipping a physical good, like small scale computer software companies, could possibly be attracted to a strong tax incentive, low cost of living, and a workforce that could be trained in computers.
Don McCall — Yes.
Sherry Sexton — Yes. By incentive, I mean tax breaks, not money we would pay to them. We can’t afford monetary incentives.
Codell Gibson — We need more business, if only it helps two or three people. Our young people trying to improve their life sometimes need help. Educating out young is the answer (to) our growth.
Emory “Fudge” Mullins — Yes. We should do anything we can to bring industry. How much (depends) on what they do for us as a county.
Roger Back — I would support every effort to attract new business and industry into Letcher County. However, our current budget is tight and I would have to see where this money would come from.
Melody Coots — Yes. We would need a business council appointed by the fiscal court to oversee communications. Every situation is different and must be addressed as such. Different businesses may request different resources that the county must approve and agree upon. If we could get the company (and)business council in good standing terms, we may be eligible for grants to the county to have ownership of (a) building and turn around and lease property and building to the company. Letcher County needs knowledge about industries looking to expand and get details to see if the county is compatible with what the industry is needing and looking for, so we can accomplish this goal together. And we also need training programs for Letcher County to help succeed with this process.
Robert “Sarge” Howard — Yes. Again, like with entrepreneur incentives, provide tax cuts for the first couple years. Provide land/ structures at a reduced rate for the first year or so. Improve on our infrastructure to help entice them as well.
Johnathan Belcher — Yes. Tax refunds if so many people are hired. Discounted county services like water or garbage pickup, if applicable.
This feature was compiled by Mountain Eagle reporter Sam Adams. More questions and comments concerning the coming May primary election will appear in next weeks edition of the newspaper.