Prior to diving into the agenda during Thursday’s special fiscal court meeting, Pike County judge-executive Ray Jones used the Judge-Executive’s comments portion of the meeting to address a major problem Pike County is facing with its roads.
State Sen. Phillip Wheeler was in attendance on Thursday to take note of the county’s needs. Jones told the senator the county will need help.
“This court has already spent approximately $395,000 of the state flex money and approximately $295,597 of the money that was earmarked for blacktop,” Jones said.
According to Jones, in the past, the fiscal court budgeted approximately $86,000 per district for blacktop. However, Jones said if you go back to the 2015-16 fiscal year, that number was more than $216,000 per district.
“That number was adjusted down because of declining coal severance tax,” Jones said. “So this year, we have received the first two quarters of coal severance and we were very conservative when we did the budget.”
Last year, Jones said the court budgeted $1.7 million and only collected around $1.3 million.
“So it was down 400k below the estimate,” Jones said. “So we felt if we budgeted $1 million in coal severance dollars, then we would be safe because that’s a conservative number.
“Through two quarters, we’re roughly $160,000 short,” he added.
In addition to the coal severance being below the budgeted amount, Jones said the mineral severance tax was down around $100,000 from the first quarter to the second, which is a net loss of around $38k, to this point in the fiscal year.
“So we’re looking at somewhere between a $350,000 to $400,000 shortfall, if that trend continues” Jones said. “Those kinds of problems have really jeopardized the level of services that this court could provide.”
The current funding levels, Jones said would only allow the county to pave 18 miles of the county’s total 1,200 miles of road.
The court is trying to do everything it can, according to Jones, in order to stretch the county’s “limited resources” to make it go further.
“If we do the blacktop in house, it costs about $50,000 a mile,” Jones said. “If we contract it out to Mountain Enterprise, the company that won the bid, it’s $60,000. So we’ve been doing all of it in house to make our blacktop money go further.”
Jones said if someone lives on a county road that has problems, it’s not that the court is failing to recognize the problem, but with only enough funding for18 miles of blacktop a year for road improvements and 1,200 miles of roads, it is difficult to please everyone. However, Jones believes the biggest concern should be, how long repaving all the county’s roads will take.
“My concern is, you’re talking more than a 60 year cycle to repave the roads in this county,” Jones said. “At the rate of money we have right now, to repave every county road it would take more than 60 years.”
Jones said he was he happy that Wheeler was in attendance because he believes Frankfort is going to have to step up and find a way to help the rural counties.
“When you have so many counties in Eastern Kentucky that are in the same shape that we’re in, or worse,” Jones said. “Knott County last spring stopped doing all road work except for emergency roadwork. And unless there is an alternate system to fund counties in the coal fields, our hands are tied.”
According to Jones, legislature limits what the county can do as far as funding county government and if the court can’t find away to address the needs it has, he said it will result in a short period of time and a substantial decrease in services.
Wheeler said that next week, meetings will begin to start talking about the upcoming budget session and he believes the fiscal court meeting was very informative.
“To see some of things facing the rural counties in our district, I mean Eastern Kentucky is facing a financial crisis such as we’ve never seen,” Wheeler said. “I look forward to cooperating with the court and seeing what all you guys need.”
According to Wheeler, it’s his understanding that the upcoming budget session will be “tight,” but for the entire state to succeed, Eastern Kentucky and rural parts of Western Kentucky, which he said are also facing similar challenges, need to succeed.