WELCH – “We are against this.”
McDowell County Commissioner Cody Estep used the words Thursday to describe the county’s dire economic situation as commissioners called a special meeting to discuss whether enough money would come in to avoid further cuts, which have already left the county barely able to provide the necessary services.
No decision was made and the budget issue was presented at the meeting as the county awaits more economic updates on cash flow, particularly property and property taxes as well as the departure tax revenue from the coal.
“I have been on the phone with the accountant trying to figure out the budget and after a long discussion with the accountant, we will defer the budget issue until our next meeting in August,” said committee chairman Cecil Patterson, adding that it is a matter of finding ways to balance the budget.
“We have a window of around $ 50,000,” he said, adding that if revenues keep going down, the money just won’t be there.
Each county department has seen its budget cut by 10 percent for two years, he said, and it’s an untenable situation for services. “We had to make another 10 percent cut this year.”
“We have no tax base,” he said, losing stores like Walmart in recent years and no growth in industry, business or jobs.
Patterson said if taxes came in as expected for the county, “in the end, even about $ 50,000, if all goes well.”
However, that may not be the case and it could go the other way.
For example, he said the coal starting check (every three months) was down about $ 10,000 from the same time last year, so earnings are unpredictable. “This (the gout) raised a red flag. Hopefully the property taxes arrive as expected and all will be well. “
But one big thing taking away from county coffers is the jail bill, he added.
“This is what is killing us,” he said. “Our regional jail bill is $ 55,000 to $ 60,000 per month.”
It might be lower than it was at one point in time, but it’s a dreadful bill to pay month after month with dwindling income.
The county was behind schedule, he said, and “that consumes a good chunk of our budget.”
“We also have a county-run detention center,” he said, which costs around $ 260,000 a year.
Patterson said the county is considering closing the detention center “temporarily until we get our budget under control.”
“But that would devastate this county,” he said, adding that the facility was necessary as there is nowhere else to hold those arrested in the county.
They are also inquiring about the possibility of using the Stevens State Correctional Center in Welch for local arrests, but so far that was only a “matter” for the state, Patterson said. .
“We will try to balance it,” Estep said. “We’re going to call the governor’s office. Senator Chandler Swope is always ready to help. We have to do something. This is critical. “
Delaying the payment of bills has also been a problem.
“This county has been holding back the bills for a few years,” said Estep, possibly longer, continuing to kick the road. “Now it’s caught up.”
“We have to make sure we stick to the payroll,” Patterson said. “We have to make sure we can do it. “
“The bottom line here is that our tax base has shrunk considerably,” Estep said, adding that during the period of fall the county should have been more aggressive in building a tax base rather than keeping the “same pace. “.
“Now he’s catching up with us. “
“We have to build a tax base,” Patterson said. “Watch Walmart close and Magic Mart close. No one is building anything new.
The county is also yet to reap the significant benefits of the development of the Hatfield-McCoy ATV trail system in the county, which has attracted more people and a few small businesses.
“But it will be over a period of several years before it shows any evidence of tax revenue,” Estep said.
Although there was a rise in coal production, Estep, who worked in the coal and natural gas mining industry, said there was a lot of coal in the market, so the price went down. .
County administrator Jennifer Wimmer said coal separation revenues over the past few years have averaged around $ 140,000 per quarter (every three months), with some fluctuations, but have not known to steadily increase.
The 5 percent separation tax on coal is based on the amount of coal mined, the state takes the lion’s share, 4.65 percent, and counties the rest.
Patterson and Estep said the county should share some of the benefits of natural gas production in north-central counties, which are doing very well.
“If lawmakers gave us just 1 or 2 percent of that (share of the starting tax on natural gas), the county would prosper,” Patterson said.
“These counties are extremely wealthy… they sit on a gold mine,” Estep said. “But they don’t share our starting coal taxes like we did.”
State Senator Chandler Swope (R-6th District) said he was not aware of any specific programs offered at the state level to help places like McDowell County facing financial difficulties with their budgets.
He is also skeptical of the arrival of tax revenue for severance pay for natural gas.
“A few counties in the north are in good shape thanks to the local gas industry,” he said. “But I think they’ll probably fight statewide sharing.”
Swope said he often speaks to McDowell County officials.
“I will do whatever I can to help,” he said.
In the meantime, all necessary county services need funding as well as the school system.
Sheriff Martin West continued to feel the sting of the cuts, now barely 10 MPs.
“We had 15,” he said, and that was a minimum.
After those five positions were lost due to budget cuts in recent years, it meant no overnight coverage and West Virginia State Police stepped up assistance.
“Members of Parliament do whatever they can do,” Patterson said, adding that they were doing required duties such as serving papers, transportation and mental hygiene. “The deputies are jostling. Horsemen run from one end of this county to the other. They are doing all they can. “
Patterson and Estep said they hoped to have numbers by the Aug. 14 meeting and address the budget again.
Wimmer said many companies like to pay their taxes by September 1 to get a small discount for early payment.
“It should help,” she said.
Jackie Fairbanks, a member of the Economic Development Authority (EDA) as well as various boards of directors, attended the meeting and said it was hard to hope.
“I love my riding and it’s a shame,” she said of the lack of money, income and development. “We don’t even have basic infrastructure, like water. We don’t have a single decent road.
McDowell County lacks a four-lane highway, inadequate water and sewer services, and limited broadband access.
Without prospects, the county continues to lose population.
“We have nothing to keep our young people,” she said.
The county’s population has been in decline for decades with the collapse of the coal industry, dropping from 50,000 in 1980 to about 18,567 in 2017.
The county has also been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, at one point recording the highest per capita overdose death rate of any county in the country.
– Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]