Whitesburg KY

Severance fund cuts worry local officials

In a meeting that was notable for its brevity, the Letcher County Fiscal Court received a request from Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital for an additional $100,000 in coal severance funding for construction costs in a facilities renovation. However, County Judge/Executive Jim Ward told ARH Administrator Dena Sparkman that the very funds she sought were in danger of being taken to help balance the state budget.

Ward said he and several magistrates were leaving for Louisville this week for a meeting of the Kentucky Coal Coalition, which had been called for the purpose of saving what is left of this year’s severance tax allocations. Ward said the state has proposed to take an additional six percent from severance taxes. He said coal revenues are down for the year and the state has already taken a significant portion of severance funds.

Sparkman said the additional $100,000 would represent the hospital’s match for a $413,000 grant, at a matching rate of three to one. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming said although he supports helping fund the renovation, he also has serious concerns about the hospital’s billing practices. Fleming said while ARH and other hospitals accept payments for treatment from Medicare and insurance companies that are considerably lower than the original billing price, it insists on full payment from people without insurance. Fleming said the people who are most affected by this are working people who cannot afford to purchase insurance but who also want to pay their bills.

“Medical facilities have to start considering working people who pay their bills,” said Fleming. “You all keep the courts full suing people. I just think you should treat them right.”

Fleming added that he appreci ates the hospital’s efforts to upgrade its facility and said the hospital has “wonderful employees.” Sparkman replied that sooner or later everyone needs medical services and the county is fortunate to have a good facility. She said there are programs in place to help working people get help with medical costs such as spend-down, but the procedures are sometimes lengthy and complex and people are often concerned about their privacy when asked questions necessary for participation.

“It’s hard to get enough information to help people get into these programs,” said Sparkman.

Ward told Sparkman the county’s budget has already been reduced by $1 million and it will be impossible for the court to make a commitment until the fiscal court learns how much will be taken from the severance tax funds. District Two Magistrate Archie Banks added that at this point, the fiscal court can’t give an answer to any coal severance tax requests because it doesn’t know the outcome. Ward and several magistrates said they should be able to help the hospital and would know more after this week’s meeting.

In other business, County Surveyor Richard Hall asked the court to accept his recommendation that McPeeks Branch and the Polly Potter easement on McPeeks Branch be accepted into the county road system. The court voted unanimously to accept the roads and Hall added that as soon as he receives several surveys back from County Attorney Harold Bolling, he will file them and have the maps recorded.

The court voted unanimously to go ahead and pay for a rescue trailer for Pine Mountain Search and Rescue. The request came from Emergency Services Director Paul Miles, who said the rescue team has a fundraiser featuring bluegrass music planned for Saturday evening, Nov. 21, at the Kingdom Come Community Center. The team will repay the county from the proceeds. The court also voted to allow the Hemphill Community Center to use $5,580 to pay for repair costs. The money will come from already allocated coal severance tax funds.

Dr. David Narramore, chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, approached the court to ask for its advice on contracting with the Center for Rural Development in Somerset for website services. Narramore said the initial costs will be from $500 to $1,000 and the monthly fee will be $24, and the commission will post an annual calendar as well as promoting tourism events in the county. Narramore also asked about the possibility of leasing a billboard somewhere in the county to promote six tourism events simultaneously.

Magistrate Fleming told Narramore he had spoken with 94th District State Rep. Leslie Combs and 29th District State Sen. Johnny Ray Turner about the possibility of getting funding to pay for a full-time tourism person for the county. Fleming said both Combs and Turner told him they will work to get the funding included in the budget for the next fiscal year. The court also gave Narramore permission to pay for 10,000 brochures promoting tourism in the county.

The court also voted to allow Judge Ward to advertise for annual bids on goods used by the county. Bids are solicited each year for gasoline for county vehicles, and other expenses that recur on a monthly basis and need to be paid to avoid late charges. Magistrate Banks asked that bids for Christmas baskets for county employees be added and that was approved as well. Upon adjournment, Ward and the magistrates left immediately for Louisville.

In the Treasurer’s Report, County Treasurer Phillip Hampton praised the court for its fiscal responsibility in keeping to the budget and watching expenditures, especially with the current financial situation in the state. Hampton said that for the first time in his 29 years as county treasurer, the court hasn’t had to make a transfer from the Road and Bridge Fund into the General Fund to balance the budget.

“This is the first time since I’ve been treasurer,” said Hampton. “I can’t remember another time we haven’t had to do this.”

Bank balances in county funds as of Nov. 13

• General Fund — $136,117.10

• Road and Bridge Fund — $1,482,881.81

• Jail Fund — $188,079.88

• LGEA Fund — $696,306.66

• Senior Citizens Fund — $50,019.29

• Forestry Fund — $7,035.36

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $478,945.37

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account — $72.25

• Letcher County AML Fund — $0.00 (AML requires the fund to be zeroed out by paying all bills each month).

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