Letcher County will see a more streamlined sheriff ’s department this year, but Sheriff Danny Webb told the Letcher County Fiscal Court at its July meeting that he hopes to be able to continue the current level of service in the face of funding cuts and reduced revenue from mineral severance taxes. Webb said he had attended the meeting to clarify some issues that were raised at the court’s June meeting in the area of the department’s finances.
Webb told the court that the department is operating on a budget of $882,000 for the fiscal year and that budget had not been part of the discussion at last month’s meeting, even if some may have gotten that impression. The appropriation cut in the court’s budget was made for retirement and health insurance. However, the difference between the fiscal year the court observes and the one the sheriff’s department observes would make it difficult for him to adjust the budget in what for him would be mid-year.
The sheriff ’s department budget is based on tax collections and runs from January 1 through December 31, while the court’s budget and fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30. Webb told The Mountain Eagle that his budget had already been in effect for six months when the court deliberated on cutting the appropriation by $100,000, which would have resulted in an immedi- ate $50,000 cut (for the remainder of his 2013 fiscal year). While the court appropriation goes to hazardous duty retirement, the appropriation had already been included in his budget and would have been diffi- cult to accommodate in the middle of his fiscal year. He added that other than the sheriff, the staff members of the sheriff ’s department are employees of the county and said the court still has to approve spending and applications for grants made by his office.
“It sounded like we were spending like a drunken sailor,” Webb told the court. “But you all were talking about retirement (funding).”
Webb referred to an arrangement made during a previous court that was part of an appropriation made during Steve Banks’s term as sheriff to allow the department to offer hazardous duty retirement insurance to officers. At that time, the court agreed to make a regular annual appropriation to the department from coal severance tax receipts. However, in light of recent losses in revenue from coal severance taxes, the court’s Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget reduced the amount by $100,000. Webb added that the cost of hazardous duty retirement insurance has skyrocketed since the original agreement and he has worked to keep costs down in his department.
Webb told the court he has reduced some of the demands in hazardous duty retirement costs by no longer placing newly-hired personnel in hazardous duty retirement. Webb also said he has lost one deputy, Matt Gayheart, to the Kentucky State Police. Gayheart was accepted for training as a state police recruit and Webb said he filled Gayheart’s spot by replacing him with a deputy who had been a school resource officer.
Webb said the contract with Letcher County Schools for the department to supply resource officers expired on June 30, and he had to lay off two resource officers and had placed Deputy Bert Slone in Gayheart’s slot. He said the Letcher County School Board will decide to whom it will award the contract for resource officers at its next meeting and he hopes it will choose to work with the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department again. The school board pays the retirement costs for the resource officers and Webb said that would reduce the amount the court pays by two deputies or three if the board chooses to rehire all three.
Webb said the Resource Officer Program benefits the school system and the sheriff ’s department. The payments from the school help out with the retirement and health funding, and the presence of the resource officers has been a plus for the schools in behavior as well as attendance. Deputies can take the paperwork on truancy from the school directly to a student’s home and he said it has caused an overall increase in average daily attendance, which plays a large role in determining the amount of funding a school system receives from the state.
“Since we’ve had the School Resource Officer Program, attendance has gone up to over 90 percent,” said Webb, adding that the average daily attendance had gone up enough to provide the funds necessary to hire the third resource officer.
Webb said he has worked with department staff to reduce costs in every area they can without cutting services and now, when a deputy is called to a particular area in the county on a complaint, if it is possible, the deputy goes ahead and performs a routine patrol there to save gas. However, the state requirement for the sheriff ’s department to transport prisoners, and the additional requirement that juvenile prisoners be taken directly to the juvenile facility at Jackson without being incarcerated in an adult jail, means the department has a certain amount of travel that cannot be limited. He also said he has hired two part-time officers recently and that has reduced costs as well.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming joined with District Two Magistrate Terry Adams and District One Magistrate Bobby Howard in refusing to approve the budget for Fiscal Year 2013-14 at the court’s June meeting until a way was found to replace the funding for the sheriff ’s department and for senior citizens centers. Fleming told Webb he appreciates the job the department is doing and praised the resource officer program as well, saying he wishes Jenkins Independent Schools had it too.
“I think the public expects good police protection,” said Fleming. “They look to you for it.”
Webb said the number of Kentucky State Police troopers patrolling Letcher County is lower now and most calls require two officers for safety and legal purposes. He said sometimes, there may only be one trooper and one deputy available and they back each other up.
Webb added that during the time he was a captain in the Kentucky State Police and post commander of Post 13 at Hazard there were seven troopers stationed in Letcher County, but since then the number has gone down. However, he said, if the court will work with the sheriff ’s department he believes his office can provide the necessary protection and other services to the citizens that they deserve.
“We just ask you to work with us,” said Webb. “We’ll do the best we can with what we have.”
In other business,the court voted to give Judge/ Executive Jim Ward the authority to sign a final arrangement to reroute Montgomery Creek Road to accommodate mining operations by Leeco, a division of James River Coal Company. Leeco will do the work and pay for the new road. Judge Ward said the coal company has promised that the new road will be wider and will be blacktopped. The company will also remove a dangerous curve from the road. The vote was based on the admonition that the citizens of the affected area must agree to final plan for the new road. Ward said his acceptance of the contract will be contingent on community approval.
Magistrate Fleming made a motion to move the allotment for county fire departments to the top of the list when the 2013 coal severance tax funds come out, but Judge Ward said he has already spoken to Amy Barnes, branch manager for Coal Development and Multi-County Projects for the Governor’s Office for Local Development, about the matter. Ward said that by taking some funding from the 2013 allocation for the Letcher County Water and Sewer District and placing it in the 2014 allotment, the court can fund the fire departments for the current year without adversely affecting the water and sewer district.