Whitesburg KY

Coal severance tax funding has fallen $2.2 million here

County officials facing serious belt-tightening in new budget

The Letcher County Fiscal Court conducted the first reading of its budget for Fiscal Year 2015-16 amid warnings of the need for extreme belt-tightening because of lowered coal severance receipts.

The balanced budget of $9,567,565 is only $310,018 less than last year’s total of $9,877,673. However, Letcher County Treasurer Phillip Hampton warned the court that $1 million is earmarked specifically for sewer projects in Craft’s Colley and Dry Fork, so that leaves the court with a working budget of $8,567,565.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward told magistrates the county is down more than $2.2 mil- lion in coal severance funding in recent years and said the budget will be extremely tight. Hampton agreed, saying it was one of the tightest he has seen in his long tenure as county treasurer.

“There is not $10 excess to move (from one project to another),” said Hampton, adding that the county simply will not be able to undertake anything extreme. “There will be no leeway”

Hampton said he had been forced to cut around $300,000 from the General Fund and $165,000 from the Road and Bridge Fund. Hampton said the biggest cut, $750,000, was made to the Local Government Economic Assistance Fund, which is funded by coal severance taxes. Hampton went on to say he is not certain that Frankfort will even approve the coal severance predictions he has submitted. Hampton told the court that the coal severance receipts for the past two quarters have been about $400,000 each, when two years ago, the county got around $1.2 million each quarter.

“It was way down in the last cycle,” said Hampton. “It will be very tight and we will have to cut some things we have funded for years. Good groups, but we won’t have the money.”

Hampton told magistrates they have done well in managing the county’s budget in the past, but it has come to a point that there will have to be cuts if they want to keep the current workforce intact.

Hampton said that with the coal business showing no sign of getting better anytime soon, the severance tax receipts will continue to get smaller.

“So if a line item runs out of money, then they are just out,” explained Hampton. “Everybody will have to work together.”

Ward said that in putting the budget together, the court’s budget committee had cut everything it could cut so the county could end the coming year with a bal- anced budget. He said that in the past three years, the county has lost $3.3 million is state funding, mostly from coal severance taxes.

“ We’ve been able to watch everything real close,” said Ward. “When I see something go down, I adjust. But we’re about as lean as we can be and still provide the services we provide.”

Ward also said that the cost for medical insurance has increased by 13 percent, but if the court watches every cent, he believes it can work.

The court voted unanimously to accept the first reading of the budget, which also gives county employees a two-percent pay increase.

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