Laurel County civic and non-profit organizations could face a “devastating” blow in the coming months if they have to do without a portion, or perhaps all, of the funding they’ve come to rely on from the county coffers.

A quickly moving financial crisis has forced the Laurel County Fiscal Court to consider laying off county employees, cutting back on insurance contributions and other drastic measures. Along with those cuts, the court has or will inform 26 local organizations that their funding for the next budget year, which begins July 1, will be curtailed or cut altogether.

“It affects everybody that has been receiving contributions,” Judge-Executive Lawrence Kuhl said last Thursday. “It’s going to hurt, but we’ve got to cut back on everything, or raise revenue somehow. It’s not a pleasant situation to be in.”

The Fiscal Court held a meeting on the proposed budget Monday to look at the contributions for the coming year. Of the $2.2 million that has been requested by local organizations, the court so far has penciled in only $1.4 million. (See accompanying chart). This figure may go up or down before the budget is finalized by June 30.

Also compounding the financial crisis is that some organizations did not receive their full funding for the current budget year. The London-Laurel County 9-1-1 Communications Center is about $190,000 short of what it was promised this year, and could lose another $73,000 if current projections hold for fiscal 2007-08. (See related story page A8).

Some organizations are budgeted to receive close to what they have been getting from the county. Laurel County OPAC, for example, will see its contribution cut from $29,000 to $24,000. The Laurel County Industrial Authority, which is asking for $500,000, is slated to receive $480,000. That’s because the authority is tasked with bringing in more jobs and will generate more occupational tax revenue, which is one of the county’s only positive revenue streams at this point.

The Laurel County Fire Alliance is expected to lose about $120,000 from its annual apportionment.

Pres. Ronnie Bales, chief of the Keavy Fire Department, said in this fiscal year, the Alliance has gotten only two of four promised quarterly payments.

He was very upset about the proposed cut.

“If you don’t have funding, you don’t operate and you have to close the doors,” Bales said. “What are people going to do for insurance?”

“I’ve been in the fire service 36 years in October and I’ve never had to deal with a Fiscal Court that deals like this,” he added.

Bales said the Alliance uses its budget allotment to help departments purchase apparatus, equipment and fire hydrants and pay for maintenance of the county’s fire training facility. What’s left is divided equally between the 10 fire departments and the LondonLaurel County Rescue Squad.

Under former Judge-Executive Dennis Karr’s term, the Alliance was given $20,000 per department each year. Former Judge-Executive Jimmy Williams raised that figure to $22,000.

Bales said when Judge-Executive Lawrence Kuhl was running for office, he asked what the fire departments and rescue squad received and when told, allegedly responded he didn’t see how they operated.

In his first year of service, Bales said, Kuhl and the Fiscal Court raised the Alliance’s allotment to $26,000. Every year since then, the figure has been $22,000.

Emergency services

a priority

Although county officials say emergency services are a priority, Bales said any loss, especially such a substantial one, would likely destroy most of the departments.

“Some might and some might not. But these fire departments have commitments for purchases they’ve made,” Bales said. “I expect some of them are going to be in serious financial trouble pretty quick.”

He pointed out the Bush Fire Department, which issued a fire tax in its district; the Laurel County Fire Department, which operates Bingo and poker tournaments; and the London Fire Department, which is funded by the city, might be able to manage. But the others will likely not be so lucky.

“I wish we had leaders that realized the amount of time we spend and the amount of money we take out of our own pockets to serve the people of this county,” Bales said, adding since he has been a firefighter, he has never seen a Laurel County fire department have to shut down.

some organizations

will get nothing

There are other organizations, such as the London-Laurel Optimist Club and both Little Leagues, who might not get any money from the county next year. Several said the loss of funding will hurt badly.

“We’re just sitting in limbo at this point,” Optimist Club Pres. Robert Prince said Wednesday. “It depends on how this works out. I’m not going to comment on anything right now, but we may have to take another stance later.”

The Optimist Club has been using the $150,000 it gets from the county to cover the debt service on the $1 million facility it built on west KY 80, which is used extensively by the club and other groups.

That’s one of the problems of these sudden, surprising cutbacks by the county. Many organizations have gone into debt themselves to provide needed services based on expected and traditional contributions from the county. Without those, the organizations are scrambling to find ways to make up the difference. The prospect is very scary to some.

“It could be very devastating to figure out how to make ends meet with the reduced revenue we have from the county,” said Randy Smith, executive director of the London-Laurel County Chamber of Commerce, which may have to do without a huge portion of its operating funds.

In the current fiscal year, the chamber received $27,000 from the county but is slated to receive only $10,000 in fiscal 2007-08. The Chamber derives most of its operating funds from contributions from the county and city, plus membership dues.

“What makes it so hard is that these funds are not being used for an event or project, but for general operating funds, such as rent, salaries, utilities and other basic expenses,” Smith said. “We rely on these funds from the county very heavily. This is the first time in my 13 years here that we’ve had to deal with a cutback in revenue of this magnitude.”

The Chamber has scheduled a meeting of its executive committee on Monday to“take a long hard look at trying to overcome the loss of revenue,” according to Smith.

“We’ve got a great board and great leadership in place, plus we have tremendous support from the business community to help us overcome these obstacles,” he said.

Smith also said the Chamber appreciated the support the county has given it in the past, and hopes it can rely on continuing support in the future.

“In no form or fashion am I criticizing Judge Kuhl and the Fiscal Court because they’ve been very good to us,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate the county has found itself in this situation.”

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