The economic and social troubles of eastern Kentucky were the topic today of two conferences Monday. In Pikeville, nearly a thousand people gathered to discuss strategies for improving the lives of mountain residents. And in Lexington, a preview of this winter’s general assembly session included talk of coal severance funding.
Shellie Hampton, who’s with the Kentucky Association of Counties says, the downturn in mining has reduced the coal severance tax dollars paid local governments.
“You’ve got some counties that rely on that for as much as 40 percent of their operating budget. Changes do need to be made and I’m pleased to see that the whole state is trying to focus on just the whole region in general in eastern Kentucky,” said Hampton. For example, the Ashland ‘Independent’ newspaper reported earlier this year Boyd County officials expect to see a 50 percent drop in coal severance taxes paid during the next year. While state leaders gathered in eastern Kentucky for first ‘Shaping Our Appalachian Region’ or SOAR conference, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce sponsored its annual Legislative Preview Conference. Shellie Hampton says she paid visit recently to the Hazard community. “While they’re making great strides, there Community College is excellent. They have a lot going on there but they have suffered quite a bit with the layoffs like that whole region has so coal severance is very important to county budgets, very important to the state as a whole,” added Hampton. Jon Steiner, who directs the Kentucky League of Cities, says some local officials would like to replace those dollars with a local sales tax. However, under current law, localities are prohibited from enacted such a tax. Such a proposal will go before the legislature. It convenes to write a new state budget early next month.