County discusses budget for next fiscal year

Published 10:04 am Monday, June 3, 2024

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The Harlan County Fiscal Court reflected the first reading of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2024-2025 during the panel’s regular meeting for May, with discussion centering around a Wellness and Recreation Center project which has been in the works for years.

Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley brought the budget up for discussion.

“I feel like it’s a really good budget,” Mosley said. “It highlights a lot of priorities that everybody has had, not only county wide but in the respective districts, and priorities we’ve heard from the general public on that they want to see action on.”

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Mosley mentioned Harlan County has been awarded a large amount of funding for different projects.

“One of those you accepted today, the Harlan County Connected project – that $2 million ARC project to get broadband (internet) to people – is a big deal,” Mosley said. “This budget proposed today is over $35 million, of course we’ll talk about some changes since the original draft.”

Following some further discussion, Magistrate James Howard brought up the Wellness and Recreation Center project which includes funding recently awarded by the state.

“That building probably won’t come in at $2 million,” Howard said. “That leaves $9 million to build this project.”

According to Howard, the project cannot be completed at the cost proposed in the budget. He mentioned current construction projects have much higher construction costs than what is available for the Wellness and Recreation Center project. Howard estimated the final cost of the building could be $29 to 35 million.

“That’s not accurate,” Mosley said. “The new construction costs with buildings that are being built are ranging anywhere from $350 to $400 a square foot. But because the existing building we’ve been considering is already there… all that would be being done is modifying. You’re not having to build a 58,000 square foot building, the building is already there, in place, and just has to essentially be modified to be able to be utilized.”

Mosley noted the original plan to build a structure from the ground up was previously deemed too expensive.

“We need to know what this thing is going to cost,” Howard said. “I’m just asking for us to have a special called meeting before the June meeting so this fiscal court can discuss and see with better figures what this thing is going to cost.”

Magistrate Paul Browning offered his thoughts on the topic.

“This is by far and away the largest investment that we’ve made collectively in one spot,” Browning said. “It really just comes down to dollars, and it’s an initial outlay and then year after year sustainability.”

Browning mentioned a similar facility in Letcher County has had some financial issues.

“I would like to leave no stone unturned in this case,” Browning said. “Now that we’re at the point of actually making a decision to go forward – before it’s been a discussion and we’ve been for it – we’ve earmarked money, we’ve done things. But now that we’re at the point of actually going forward…and making this a reality. I just really want to go back and dot the I’s and cross the T’s and make sure that we’re in line with what we feel is correct with the estimates we’ve been given…I’d like to have one more discussion to make 100 percent certain that the costs we’re looking at are the real costs.”

Mosley pointed out the Letcher County facility faced unique issues including being shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and being utilized by FEMA for some time.

“From a revenue perspective, I think it’s a different situation,” Mosley said. “I feel sound with the figures. It’s a monumental investment for the long-term health of our community and to give our kids something to do.”

Magistrate Jim Roddy made a motion to purchase the former Belk building and lot located on Village Center Road for $2 million or the appraised value, whichever is less. The motion died on the floor for lack of a second. 

Following some further discussion, the court reflected the first reading of the Harlan County budget for fiscal year 2024-2025. A second reading and Harlan County Fiscal Court approval is required for the budget to take effect.

In other fiscal court activity:

  • The Court approved LGED Coal Severance projects in the amount of $5,399,678 for Fiscal Year 2024-2025;
  • Harlan County Emergency Management Director Stephen Lewis was appointed the Judge-Executive’s Designee on the E911 Advisory Board;
  • An affiliation agreement between the Harlan County Fiscal Court and Harlan County Rescue Squad was approved.