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County nearly broke, officials are warned

The Letcher County Fiscal Court was warned at its October meeting that the long predicted hard financial times have arrived.

While giving his monthly report, Letcher County Treasurer Phillip Hampton said that while he will compile the exact figures on Tuesday morning, after the county’s bills are paid, it is obvious that several of the county’s funds will have a zero balance after the current checks are deducted.

Hampton said he will forward the numbers to the judge’s office as soon as he is finished, but added that the next month looks bleak.

Hampton has consistently cautioned the court to be cautious with spending, which prompted the members to deliver a 2015-2016 budget that he called “one of the tightest he has seen in his long tenure as county treasurer,” when it was passed at a special called meeting in June. At that meeting, Judge/Executive Jim Ward told the court that the county is down more than $2.2 million in coal severance funding in recent years and acknowledged that the budget was extremely

Ward then added that in putting the budget together, the committee had cut everything it could cut, and had done everything it could do so the county could end the coming year with a balanced budget. He said that in the past three years, the county has lost $3.3 million is state funding, mostly from coal severance taxes.

At that time, Hampton added “There will be no leeway, so if a line item runs out of money, then they are just out. Everybody will have to work together.”

At Monday’s meeting, Hampton told the court that the General Fund, LGEA Fund, and Jail Fund will be “pretty much wiped out” when the bills the court was voting to pay are deducted, and said that until tax receipts start coming in November, there will be no money.

Hampton said that while money can still be transferred from one account to another, “There will have to be some hard decisions made in the next few weeks. We have some tough times ahead.” He added that some of the funds will actually have balances in the negative (below zero) and said the county will not be able to send some checks out until either tax receipts or coal severance funds come in.

Judge Ward told the court that the budget committee will have to get together and look for ways to accommodate the situation, and said he will call a special meeting to work things out. When Ward asked the court to vote to pay the month’s bills, Second District Magistrate Terry Adams asked, “Do we have enough money to pay them?” Ward replied, “This time.”

In other business, Bill Meade of the Kingscreek Fire Department told the court that 911 pages are not getting to fire departments in outlying areas and added that the required back-up phone calls are not being made. Meade referred to several recent instances in which fire stations were not notified about house fires in their service areas and said that in one case, he wasn’t aware of a fire in the Kingscreek area until the following day.

Meade told the court he understands that the pages, which go out from transmitters on several mountain peaks in the county, don’t always get through because of the mountainous terrain. However, he said the dispatchers are required to follow protocol, which requires them to place a telephone call to the fire station in question if they haven’t received a reply to the page within two minutes.

Judge Ward agreed that is the protocol and said he will have to get to the bottom of the situation. Meade said he understands that 911 has several new employees and that the state police post in Hazard also has new personnel.

Gary Rogers of Letcher Fire and Rescue also addressed the court and said there is a conflict over a lease the court granted to his department for land near the Campbell’s Branch Community Center as part of a fire substation established there several years ago. Rogers said Letcher Fire and Rescue has improved the surrounding area and created a primitive campground there. He said the Campbell’s Branch Community Center asked him to sublease it to the center, but he doesn’t know about the legal aspects of doing so. Ward said the property was indeed leased to Letcher Fire and Rescue and that he and County Attorney Jamie Hatton will look into the matter.

Letcher County Tourism Commission Chairman David Narramore reported that a number of events are coming up soon, including a 5K “Zombie” Run sponsored by the Whitesburg Rotary Club and a Little Engine Run for children. The races will be held on October 24 at 5 p.m. and all proceeds will go to the Imagination Library. The Downtown Merchants Association will sponsor an Oktoberfest on the same day, which will feature music, food and beverages and will be held downtown from 3 until 11 p.m. The Battle of Leatherwood festivities will take place from October 23 to 25, and the Cowan Community Center will hold a masquerade square dance on October 30 .

The Trail Town meeting will be held on Thursday, November 5, at the Letcher County Extension Office and the tourism group from the recent summit meeting will meet at 6:30 p.m. that day.

The court voted unanimously to proclaim the third week of October as Retired Teacher’s Appreciation Week, and Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming reported that he had spoken to Jenkins Mayor Todd Depriest about the water line extension from Jenkins to Grays Branch at Haymond. Fleming said the route was altered, but the project will be done, and that bids have not gone out. The court also voted unanimously to create a Scuba Diving Park at Fishpond Lake.

Bank balances as of September 16:

• General Fund — $140,207.44

• Road and Bridge Fund — $939,503.25

• Jail Fund — $61,445.52

• LGEA Fund — $155,482.70

• Senior Citizens Fund — $122,786.37

• Forestry Fund — $15,158.37

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $305,764.62

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service — $86,042.51.

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