Letcher County and other coal mining counties in Kentucky are not likely to see much revenue from mineral severance taxes in the coming fiscal year.
Letcher County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward told the Letcher County Fiscal Court at its April meeting that the early projection for the Local Government Economic Assistance Fund for Kentucky is $50 million, with $19 million of that coming from mineral taxes.
Ward said that coal counties can probably expect $17.3 million, which is more than last year, but he added that with production down, he isn’t certain that it will translate into more money for each county.
In other business, the court heard the second reading of a “broadband ordinance” that supports the creation of a board to work to participate in a statewide broadband system to serve Letcher County and bring high speed Internet to places with limited options for service.
County Attorney Jamie Hatton read the ordinance that called for the board to work toward obtaining the best available broadband for the county. Judge Ward explained that the plan is for developing a high speed broadband line that runs through the county. Current and future service providers will tap into the main line and extend lines into parts of the county. The court voted to approve the ordinance.
Hatton also read a resolution in support of the Letcher County Trail System, which promotes the Tanglewood Trail in Whitesburg and the Devil John Wright Moonshine Trail in Jenkins. The resolution provides for the county to support the submission of the trails plans to the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of the Economic Recovery Plan. Approval was unanimous.
A second trail plan was also approved that will tie in all-terrain vehicle trails, horse trails, and bicycle trails in Letcher County and other eastern Kentucky counties with trails in Virginia and West Virginia. The project will be funded by an Appalachian Regional Commission grant and will help to map and inventory trails. The $500,000 grant is part of a nine-county effort (Letcher, Breathitt, Perry, Knott, Floyd, Leslie, Pike, Martin, and Magoffin counties). County Attorney Hatton suggested that the court appoint a representative to the trail board by the next court meeting.
The court also heard a request from residents of the Scuttle Hole Gap area of Big Cowan concerning the possibility of extending water lines from the main line that runs through Big Cowan.
When the line was originally run by the City of Whitesburg, there was not adequate funding to run lines to the side roads. One woman told the court that she had spoken with representatives of Abandoned Mine Lands and the state and had been told that the Scuttle Hole Gap area would not be eligible for AML funding, but Ward said the residents should go to the April meeting of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District (LCWSD), which will be held in the District Courtroom at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 21, to get more recent information.
The district and Bell Engineering, which works with it on water projects, submitted a request to AML that the Big Cowan Side Roads Project, which would include Scuttle Hole Gap, be studied again in 2015. As of the most recent meeting of the Board of Directors of the LCWSD, AML has not completed the study or made a decision on the eligibility of the side roads.
David Narramore, Chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, reported that the tourism commission has been able to continue to promote Letcher County tourism despite the budget restrictions that are the result of cuts in coal severance tax funds. Narramore presented each court member with a copy of the Country Music Highway 2016 Travel Guide which has a two-page color ad for Letcher County attractions titled “Letcher County Will Make Your Day.” The ad lists attractions and events as well as places to shop, eat, and stay in the county. The guide also carries ads for individual businesses.
Narramore told the court that a brochure to promote tourism in the county has been finalized and will be printed by the next court meeting. He added that trail town meetings have been placed on hold until he can arrange a meeting with Regina Stivers, Deputy Secretary of the Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet.