The Letcher Fiscal Court will meet in special session Thursday morning to look for ways to address a cut in coal and gas severance tax funding which has now reached about $1 million annually when compared to just three years ago.
Notice of the special meeting, which will begin at 10 a.m. in the Letcher Circuit Courtroom, was issued around 3:30 p.m. by office of Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward. The notice says the fiscal court will “discuss and vote” on recommendations for the “budget and finances of all departments of the Letcher County Fiscal Court.”
Magistrate Wayne Fleming, whose Fifth District includes the Jenkins area, said he expects the fiscal court will be faced with taking action on cuts in county services that he says are being recommended by a five-member committee that has been studying the county’s current budget crisis.
The budget committee, which is comprised of Judge Ward, District Four Magistrate Keith Adams, District Three Magistrate Woody Holbrook, County Treasurer Phillip Hampton and an administrative member of Ward’s staff, has issued a report entitled “Department Financials,” which details the expenses and deficits associated with the operation of several county government divisions, including sanitation, recycling and senior citizens.
Fleming said he expects the members of the budget committee to recommend:
• the closing of all senior citizens centers and county-owned community centers,
• the closing of the county’s recycling center at Cowan,
• a $5 increase in monthly garbage bills, and
• the suspension of operations and maintenance at all county-owned parks and walking tracks excluding the Letcher County Recreation
Center in Whitesburg.
Fleming said he will oppose many of the committee’s recommendations, particularly the closing of the community centers, senior citizens centers and recommended cuts in meals delivered by senior citizens employees from approximately 200 per day to only 24 per day across the county.
The “Department Financials” also includes information showing the recycling center operated at a loss of $196,961 during fiscal year 2014-15, while the senior citizens program finished the same period with a budget deficit of $301,596. The documents also indicate that the county’s sanitation department was in the red $218,872 during the 2014-15 fiscal year, which ended last June 30.
The budget committee documents also show:
• that its costs $46,838 to operate the Letcher County Rangers law enforcement agency,
• that the Letcher County Recreation Center ended the last fiscal year with a budget surplus of $37,451,
• that the Letcher County 911 Department finished the last fiscal year with a budget deficit of $116,559, and
• that it cost the county government $66,944 to operate the Letcher County Government TV Channel during fiscal year 2014-15.
The county’s current budget crisis is the result of continuing cuts in both coal and natural gas severance tax receipts. For the first three quarters of 2015, Letcher County has received $891,489 in coal severance taxes and $963,269 in natural gas severance taxes for a total of $1,854,758. At this point in 2012, the county had received a total of $2,586,356 in severance receipts, which represents a cut of $731,598 for the same ninemonth period.