In a marathon June meeting lasting nearly four hours, the Letcher County Fiscal Court finally agreed to accept the “as read” version of the county’s $9,462,339 budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14 with an amendment that guarantees that unassigned carry over and “rainy day” funds that come in after July 1 will be used to shore up cuts in the Senior Citizens budget and the court’s allotment to the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department.
County Treasurer Phillip Hampton conducted the second reading of the budget which was introduced at a special called meeting in May but was ordered cut by an additional $250,000 by the state. The demand that the budget be further reduced was announced at the court’s regular May meeting.
Magistrates Wayne Fleming, Terry Adams, and Bobby Howard said Monday night they would not support cuts of $150,000 to Senior Citizens and $100,000 to the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department’s yearly appropriation from the county of $223,000. The court deadlocked at a three-to-three vote with Fleming, Adams, and Howard voting no on passing the budget and Judge/Executive Jim Ward voting yes along with magistrates Keith Adams and Codell Gibson.
Ward told the magistrates the county has lost more than $1 million in revenue because of cuts to coal severance tax returns, which fund much of the court’s discretionary spending.
County Attorney Jamie Hatton cautioned the court on the possible ramifications of entering the new fiscal year without approving a balanced budget, which he said could include sanctions that would hurt taxpayers as well as possible jail time for the magistrates. Hatton said it would be unlikely for the court to have time to meet in special session to revise the budget and satisfy laws requiring that it be published in The Mountain Eagle, as required by state law, by July 1. Both Fleming and Adams said they would rather go to jail than approve the cuts.
Ward called for a second vote, but the result was the same and he suggested the court move on to the rest of its business. Near the close of the meeting, Adams made a motion that the meeting be extended until an agreement could be reached, which was approved unanimously. Ward called a short recess, during which time Fleming, Howard, and Adams spoke to County Treasurer Hampton.
When the court reconvened, Fleming said he believed they had worked out a compromise that would restore funding to Senior Citizens and the sheriff ’s department, but when Ward asked where the money would come from, he was told other county agencies would see cuts including a severe cut to the Letcher County Sanitation Department. Adams was adamant that he did not want to see cuts to sanitation, as was Ward. Adams also said he felt that cutting the sheriff ’s department budget would do harm to the citizens. Two deputies then shed some light on the matter.
Deputy Barry Engle, who is a retired Kentucky State Police sergeant, told the court that at present, the KSP’s Hazard post is operating at reduced strength in the county because two of the four troopers who are assigned to the county are off on medical leave. Engle said that although some relief comes from troopers who are assigned to Perry and Knott counties, those officers answer complaints and then must return to their assigned areas, outside of Letcher County. He said that most law enforcement activity in the county falls to the sheriff ’s department and indicated that cuts would negatively impact its efforts.
Deputy LaShawna Frazier, who handles financial matters for the department, told the court that under the budget that was presented, the sheriff ’s office has a sixmonth window before it has to look at cutting staff and services. She added that it is not a sure thing that the Letcher County Board of Education will continue to employ sheriff ’s deputies as school resource officers, adding that the board is considering using another law enforcement agency instead.
Of the sheriff ’s projected $1.1 million budget for 2013-14, $882,450 is generated through tax collections and other fees and goes to pay salaries and withholding, vehicle costs and office expenses. The county’s $223,000 contribution helps cover hazardous duty retirement pay and insurance costs.
The court was united in not wanting to see the number of deputies reduced and Ward suggested that instead of amending the budget before the end of the fiscal year, when carryover amounts and other final numbers are not certain, the court should go ahead and accept the budget as read and amend it as soon as the carryover funds and a $150,000 “rainy day” appropriation becomes available. The rainy day appropriation was earmarked for the recreation center, but the center’s budget can be shifted so it can be used in the general fund. Added Ward, “This is a rainy day.” Hampton had made a similar suggestion to Ward’s at the end of his second reading of the budget, but it had been dismissed by several of the magistrates at that time.
Adams, magistrate for District Two, made a motion to the effect that the budget would be amended as soon as the extra funds are available to shore up Senior Citizens and the sheriff ’s department. Both Adams’s motion and the motion to accept the budget “as read” passed unanimously, ending one of the longer meetings in the current court’s term.
Fleming, magistrate for District Five, said he felt one of the problems with the budget was that the court had little opportunity to work on it as a group. He later said that it would be good to start having meetings on the next budget well before it is due so the magistrates could have more input. However, County Treasurer Hampton said the state’s refusal to accept the first reading and its demand that it be further reduced affected the opportunity for the court to collaborate on this year’s budget.
Hampton said that in his 34 years as county treasurer, it was the first time the state had returned a budget and asked for cuts. He also added that even in the unlikely event that coal production returned to the high levels of previous years, it would be three financial quarters before the county would see increased returns in severance taxes. Hampton told the court it would have to tighten its belt and spend carefully. He also pointed to surrounding counties that are reducing workforces and are in much tougher straits.
“If our revenue doesn’t pick up, we will have to stay strictly within the budget,” said Hampton. “That will be especially true with overtime (for county workers), but I think we can make it. It’s tough everywhere.”
In response to a complaint about the court’s planned appropriations to county fire departments of $20,000 each, Magistrate Fleming said he had checked and the appropriations will not be forthcoming this year. Fleming said that because of cutbacks in coal severance tax funds and the fire departments’ relatively low placement on the court’s appropriations list, there will be no appropriations this year. Fleming said the court could change the list for the second year of the biennium, but Ward said that might actually have a negative effect and place the fire departments even lower on the list. Spokespersons for several fire departments complained about pagers and other communications devices as well as the lack of 911 meetings.
Ray Adams of Blackey and Letcher Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Rogers had a heated exchange over Adams’s accusation that Rogers had harassed the Wings Medical Helicopter Service over its procedures and where it took patients. Adams said he and his wife, Doris, who recently coordinated an event to celebrate the helicopter service’s 10th anniversary, had recently been in the helicopter service’s offices visiting when Adams said he overheard Rogers call, asking “What the hell are you doing up there?” Rogers vehemently denied making the call and told Adams, “I never said a damn word,” and asked that a 911 meeting be scheduled to discuss the matter. He added that if Adams could prove his allegations, he would resign his position.
“If the helicopter guy will tell you I said that, I will resign as chief of Letcher Fire and Rescue, said Rogers.”
In other business, Whitesburg dentist David Narramore, who is also chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, told the court that six paintings created by artists who participated in the PLIEN AIR DEMONSTRATIONS held in downtown Whitesburg on June 8 will be on display at the Harry M. Caudill Library in Whitesburg until they are auctioned on Saturday, September 28. Time and place of the auction will be announced.
Narramore urged people to come and see the paintings and to cast their vote for “Best of Show.” The voting will determine the order they are auctioned and the painting with the greatest number of votes will be auctioned last.
Narramore also told the court that Kentucky Heritage Artist Doug Adams was the sole artist to submit a bid to create the planned outdoor public mural project. The court unanimously awarded the bid to Adams, who is nearing completion of his third metal sculpture, “Fall on Sourwood Mountain,” which will be ready for hanging within the next two weeks.
Narramore also said the Little Shepherd Drama will open this weekend in Jenkins at the Little Shepherd Amphitheater. For ticket information, call 606-832- 4315.
The Tourism Commission met on June 10 to discuss budget recommendations and in light of coming cuts, made a number of budget reductions for the 2013-2014 budget. Narramore said that events and festivals will see less than the $500 they have received under previous budgets and added that, according to the Kentucky Department of Tourism, Letcher County generates over $13 million annually through tourism.
The court voted to accept the budgets of special districts within the county, although Judge Ward emphasized that the court can neither approve nor deny the districts’ budgets nor does it have any input on them. The budgets are: Letcher County Public Health Taxing District, $782,460 in appropriations. Letcher County Public Library, total appropriations of $1,516,412. LKLP Community Action Project, total appropriations of $58,190,537. Kentucky River Area Development District, total expenditures of $3,783,113. Letcher County Conservation District, total appropriations, $138,000. Letcher Extension District Board, total appropriations $1,008,095. Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority, total appropriations, $408,642.
In other court business:
• The court voted five to one to accept the Administrative Code, Personnel Policy, and Code of Ethics for the coming fiscal year, with Terry Adams casting the lone no vote. Magistrate Fleming suggested a work session to examine and possibly revise the personnel policy at a later date.
• Recreation Director Derek Barto told the court he was to blame for a reservation scheduling mix-up at Fishpond Lake the past weekend and said that in the future those wishing to reserve a shelter at the lake will need to come by the recreation center and sign up.
• Deane resident Chris Yonts and Magistrate Fleming both questioned the policy of placing public comments last on recent agendas, but Ward said the move had been done to allow the court to accomplish its business and other agenda items before opening the floor to public comment.