Total property values in Letcher County have gone up despite the loss of the coal industry, due in part to strong real estate sales and an increase in the value of oil and gas rights, according to information from the county Property Valuation Administrator’s office.
That could have the effect of lowering tax rates in the county if prices continue to rise. Personal tangible property, which is taxed at a much higher rate than real estate, is down about $4 million this year, while the total equalized assessment for all types of property combined is up to $526,391,736 from $520,414,019 in 2019.
PVA Rick Rose said high-end houses are selling at above assessed value, and county residents are buying new cars, driving up the total assessments even as tangible property — mostly luxury items and investments — decreases. Commercial and industrial property also declined in value, but the county is showing signs of changing from an industrial economy to healthcare related. Residential properties, however, are increasing in value as people move to stable, highly skilled jobs with large incomes.
Rose said enough properties sold for more than the assessed value that the office was able to hit only 90-percent assessment, when the state tries for a 100-percent valuation. For example, a property that is valued by the PVA at $90,000 and sells for $100,000 is deemed to have been assessed at 90 percent of its value.
“Like usual, they’ve gone up a little bit on the sales,” Rose said. “You have some that sell high, and some that surprise you and sell dirt cheap.”
He put down the increased property values to the increase in healthcare professionals in the county, and the larger salaries those jobs pay.
“We have nurses and RNs and PAs (physician assistants).They’ve way overtaken the coal mines,” Rose said.
Recent state figures on coal employment show only 17 coal jobs left in Letcher County. According to the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), 24 percent of Letcher County workers — nearly 1 in 4 — were employed in the healthcare and social assistance industry in 2019.That’s up from 12 percent in 2012.The number in mining and oil and gas extraction had dropped to 8 percent, a third as many workers as in healthcare and about the same number that work in accommodations and food service.
According to CEDIK, which is a project of the University of Kentucky, 4,303 people commute to surrounding counties to work. Some travel as far as Fayette County, with most employed in Pike, Perry, Harlan and Knott counties. Fayette, Pike, and Perry counties, in particular have large hospitals and other medical facilities.
There are large numbers of healthcare jobs in Letcher County as well. Appalachian Regional Healthcare employs about 430 people in the county, and Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation employs more than 422 in clinics across eastern Kentucky, with 287 in Letcher County alone. Pikeville Medical Center also operates a specialty clinic in the county, and there are two mental health agencies — Kentucky River Community Care and Mountain Comprehensive Care Centers — with in the county. State statistics showed 449 employed in healthcare in the county in the first quarter of this year, but that does not appear to included support personnel such as secretaries, clerks, janitorial and maintenance workers.
While more than 4,000 people commute to work outside the county each week, 2,389 stay here to work, and 2,007 from Pike, Perry, Knott, Floyd, Harlan counties and other areas commute to work in Letcher County.
The CEDIK figures show the county still lags far behind other parts of the state in the number of residents with bachelor’s degrees, but the amount of money they make is nearly double those with a high school diploma or less.
The total value of homes here increased about a half-million dollars over the previous year.