LOST CREEK — Members of the Lost Creek Volunteer Fire Dept. called a special meeting Sunday evening to discuss their concerns over major funding cuts all of the volunteer fire departments in Perry County will experience this year as a result of the fiscal court not providing coal severance money. The fiscal court has often discussed Perry County’s decline in coal severance tax revenue. Lost Creek’s special called meeting fell in the shadow of an article the Hazard Herald published last week, which details a report that Judge Executive Scott Alexander put together to show how much severance tax money Perry County has lost over the past seven years.
According to Alexander’s report, Perry County is down nearly $1 million this year from what was received in coal severance for 2015, and almost $2 and a half million down from the amount that was recorded in 2011. Judge Alexander has mentioned budget cuts in the past two fiscal court meetings, without delving into an array of specifics. However, according to the Lost Creek Fire Dept., cuts are already happening, and the coal severance money fire departments received from local government is one of the places hit hard.
“All the fire departments got cut,” said Donna Campbell, “We lost all of our coal severance funds. All we get is our state funds and we have to buy equipment with that. We have no other funds to pay the bills or buy fuel with except for what we raise ourselves.”
Typically, each of the volunteer fire departments in Perry County receives money from the fiscal court that is allocated to them annually through coal severance tax revenue. Although the overall dollar amount distributed could, and sometimes did, fluctuate, there was a time when the fire departments accepted coal severance payments of around $10,000 for a year from the county government.
“Most of the fire departments are struggling,” Donna Campbell continued, “We have a $10,688
truck payment in December and we don’t have the money. We only owe one and a half payments on it.”
Money that is distributed to volunteer fire departments by the state comes with strings attached. The fire departments cannot use it for whatever they choose. Instead, state money can only be spent on equipment, leaving expenses such as electric for the station and fuel for the trucks totally dependent upon whatever extra money the fire departments can bring in themselves. Many times, that is where the coal severance funds came into use.
Ed Feltner and Mark Stidham of Lost Creek Fire Dept. talked in depth about the cost of keeping the facility well equipped and up to state standards. Each firefighter has to have a suit that can cost about $2 thousand. For Lost Creek, the demand for new volunteers is at a peak because they now carry a greater workload than they did in year’s past.
When the Troublesome Creek Fire Dept. in Ary closed, Lost Creek assumed responsibility for Troublesome Creek’s district, as well as their own. For now, Lost Creek covers the largest distance of the volunteer fire departments in Perry County. Greater distance equals more fuel.
“What it’s going to come down to is, we won’t be able to respond to some of these emergency calls,” Steve Argonis, a volunteer with the department, said of the financial crunch.
Lost Creek’s volunteers said there have been discussions of grants and more fundraisers with elected officials, but scoring the kind of cash they need for survival will require a tremendous level of work with no promise of any reward. The bottom line is, times are tough for these important staples of our communities, our local fire departments.
However, Junior Campbell made an interesting point at Sunday’s meeting when he highlighted the necessary role fire departments play in economic development. Everything from housing prices to insurance rates become more marketable in areas with a fire department close by, so economic development without fire departments would be a tough concept to sell.
Of course no one would miss the fire departments more than those who call out for their help during times of emergency. Every form of first response relies on assistance from the fire departments in some way.
Anybody who might want to show support for Lost Creek Fire, while also having a good time, can do so at this year’s annual 4th of July Pig Roast, which will be held July 2 at the fire department. Or you can always volunteer to become a local hero. Right now, Lost Creek needs two more capable and determined volunteers to reach the capacity the state wants them to maintain. Lost Creek Volunteer Fire Dept. can be contacted through Facebook.
In these times when budget cuts are a running theme throughout government and elected officials have to choose who gets a portion of what remains and who does not, the volunteers at the Lost Creek Fire Dept. are concerned that this year could mark the beginning of a once vital funding stream finally running dry. So, at Sunday’s meeting, they looked ahead to the future, knowing that the task of making up for the funding they have lost is great and the work will be hard, but they also know that overcoming challenges is what they do best.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.