Again this week, the Letcher Fiscal Court demonstrated that it is incapable of solving the county’s financial problems.
The county is projected to fall $1.3 million short in it budget when the current fiscal year ends June 30, and Judge/Executive Jim Ward had proposed a business license on extractive industries such as gas wells, coal mines and rock quarries to fill the gap. The proposal would have raised about $4 million for the county coffers.
But faced with a choice of increasing residential garbage bills by 33 and a third percent — which would raise revenue by less than a third of what’s needed — or placing the $2,500 business license on industry, the fiscal court did it does best when addressing the budget crisis.
After a last-minute closed session held at the request of County Attorney Jamie Hatton, the court deadlocked 3-3, effectively blocking any action on the issue.
Ward, and magistrates Wayne Fleming and Woody Holbrook voted for the business license fee. Magistrates Keith Adams, Bobby Howard and Terry Adams voted no. The court tabled the garbage fee increase until a later meeting.
In the past year, the county has eliminated the senior citizens program, cut the number of county employees by nearly half, and severely curtailed funding for fire protection and the sheriff ’s department. With a $1.3 million shortfall looming, more cuts are sure to come, among them a shortened work week for road department employees. Faced with the very real possibility that county services will be shut down, the court is still paralyzed by personal feuds and the mistaken belief that roads are paved with good intentions rather than money.
Add to that threats of lawsuits by the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association, which said last week that it had “reached out to magistrates” to stop the ordinance, and the business license was doomed. Unless magistrates find the courage and the character to act in the interest of the voters who put them in office rather than themselves, the county may well be doomed also.
Unemployment is already nearly double the state average, and we suspect it won’t get much better when there are no programs for senior citizens, no police, fire, and rescue services, no garbage collection, no parks for children, no economic development efforts, and a system of crumbling roads and bridges.
Rather than raise revenue from an industry that takes $50 million a year from Letcher County, magistrates Terry Adams, Bobby Howard, and Keith Adams, want to look for more expenses to cut. We suggest they be the ones to have to deliver the bad news when county services are shut down and employees have to be laid off.