Whitesburg KY
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Uncertainty still clouds county’s budget picture

Uncertainty in the state budget has led to uncertainty in county budgets as well. This includes the Letcher County Fiscal Court’s budget for fiscal year 2018-2019.

At the court’s April meeting this week, Judge/Executive Jim Ward said that while the overall expectation is for lower coal severance tax receipts, nothing will be certain until Governor Matt Bevin either signs the revised budget he received from the state legislature on Saturday, vetoes it, or uses line item vetoes to do away with specific sections.

Ward said he expects the county to get less that $200,000 in coal severance tax funds for the entire year. He said he had heard that it would be $138,000 and then $198,000, but County Treasurer Doris Jean “D.J.” Frazier said she has been told it will most likely be $138,000. Ward added that he expects Letcher County to get somewhere in the neighborhood of $550,000 from (natural gas) mineral tax receipts. He said the total of the two severance taxes is well down from receipts several years ago that totaled around $4 million for both funds.

The governor will be looking at a revised budget, following the legislature’s override of the original budget he signed. Ward said Bevin now has 10 days to make a decision on whether to sign it, veto the whole thing or veto parts of it. He said the House of Representatives’ budget is better for Letcher County than the Senate’s budget, and he hopes the return of some unmined mineral taxes will be added somewhere in the process. Ward said the General Assembly restored everything that had been taken away in the governor’s first version, and he said that he hopes the severance tax receipts will either stay where they are or possibly be increased.

Ward said the extended wrangling over the state budget will make it difficult for many counties to get their own budgets approved by June 30, and that Letcher County may have to extend its first reading to May 15. Without a state budget in place, none of Kentucky’s counties can be certain of the bottom line for its own finances. He said if the version that was presented to the governor on Friday holds, Letcher County’s figures will be pretty close to right, but if there are cuts, they will have to be revised downward. Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming said it’s been difficult to keep up with all the changes in the budget.

Ward did offer some good news to the effect the county has been granted everything it asked for in a recent application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for flood damages earlier this year. He said that he was told that requests of under $125,000 will be granted quicker than those exceeding that amount. Fleming asked Ward to do all he can to assist Jenkins, Fleming- Neon, and Whitesburg in making their applications to FEMA.

In response to a question from Fleming concerning an appropriation for the county’s forestry fund, County Treasurer Frazier said the county recently received $800 from the federal government, which is a quarterly payment that provides funds to pay for the state to provide forest fire protection. She added that once a year, the county writes a $2,146 check to the state from the forest fire fund.

In other business, Elwood Cornett, chairman of the all-volunteer Letcher County Planning Commission addressed the court members and thanked them for everything they have done to help gain approval for building a federal prison in Letcher County, adding “We got it.” Cornett said he received phone calls from U.S. Fifth District Congressman Hal Rogers and from the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Good Friday informing him that the Record of Decision had been signed, and that a land survey was starting Monday, April 16. He said the prison should provide between 300 and 400 jobs to the county, as well as about 300 construction jobs to build it.

In response to a question from Magistrate Fleming, Cornett said the age limit for hiring personnel for hazardous duty positions such as guards is 36.

The court also voted unanimously to adopt the Kentucky Department of Local Government’s “Data Breach Policy” to protect the data in county records from being stolen. Judge Ward said the Kentucky Association of Counties had sent a template but County Attorney Jamie Hatton said the material from KACO recommended that county governments adopt the exact policies of the DLG.

The court also voted to leave the salaries of county elected officials at the current rate without changing them. (See related story on Page 1.)

The court voted unanimously to honor Corporal Berniece M. Dixon, U.S. Army Women’s Army Corps, by adding her name to the Memorial Board at Blackey. Judge Ward told the court the board is about full and said it will need to be expanded.

Bank balances for county agencies as of March 31:

• General Fund: $672,510.43

• Road and Bridge Fund: $906,909.94

• Jail Fund: $87,943.64

• LGEA Fund: $711,575.89

• Senior Citizens Fund: $227.42

• Forestry Fund: $18,951.41

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Depreciation Reserve: $7,690.89

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Debt Service: $255,003.06

Total of all funds : $2,660,812.68

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