At a special called meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court on Tuesday, the court voted unanimously to pass the first reading of the budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18. County Finance Officer Doris Jean Frazier conducted the first reading, which features a balanced budget of $7,237,189 and after a few questions from the magistrates, the court voted to pass it. Judge/Executive Jim Ward said it is about $700,000 less than last year’s budget of $7,980,705. This is primarily due to cuts in coal severance tax receipts.
Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming questioned several items on the budget and said he didn’t believe it was realistic, adding that there were imbalances in several county programs. Ward said it is realistic and Frazier told Fleming that one of the items he questioned, salaries, is based on several factors. Frazier said that Deputy Judge Eddie Meade will only be listed on the books as Deputy Judge sometimes and other times, he will be listed as running the Sanitation Department or the Road Department. Frazier also told the court that the county always has to juggle with transfers due to the time it receives funds, which is not always certain.
Frazier also told Fleming that Road Foreman Cheddy Smith will retire July 31 and Meade will do his job for the foreseeable future. Sanitation Foreman Bobby Kincer is retiring on disability and Meade will assume his duties as well. But both their salaries figure into the budget until they officially retire. She said Meade will have to be a jack-of-all-trades this year, adding that it is a good thing he is a “team player.” She also told Fleming that she and others in the judge’s office will be on furlough several days each month and that the budget reflects other similar factors including recent lay-offs and furloughs in other departments.
The budget will become law following the second reading at the court’s next meeting. Magistrates are free to suggest changes until then and Ward said the budget will be a “work in progress” until it becomes official. He added that Frazier will probably be appointed as county treasurer in light of current Treasurer Phillip Hampton’s retirement, which he announced at last month’s fiscal court meeting, but that will have to be voted on by the court and is not yet official.
In other business, the court also voted to continue to purchase its employee health insurance through the Kentucky Association of Counties. Duran Sparkman, a group benefits specialist with KACO, told court members they will realize some savings by going with a plan from Anthem and that the county’s contribution toward the $5,000 deductible of $1,450 will help to alleviate out-of-pocket costs to employees.
Magistrate Fleming said that he understands that is the best plan the court can come up with, but added that the state of health insurance in Kentucky and throughout the country is generally bad, although Americans generally have excellent health care. He said a lot of county employees can barely afford to go to the doctor and that this is common all over the country. Sparkman agreed and said that the cost of health insurance has gone up quite a bit over time, but added that next to salary, health insurance is the most important item of compensation for most workers.