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As coal declines in W.Va., so do county coffers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It started in Boone County, which, on Dec. 31, laid off 11 part-time public employees. A security officer, a recycling center employee and a bunch of janitors who cleaned community centers one day a week all lost their jobs, Assistant County Administrator Pam White said.

Then it was Nicholas County, which last month announced plans to lay off 24 employees, including four sheriff’s deputies. Almost every other county employee — 30 people in all — took a 20 percent pay cut.

Last week, it was Mingo County, which laid off 12 employees — six general laborers, two court marshals, a mechanic, a groundskeeper, a funeral escort officer and an animal control officer.

Mingo also cut the hours of four other employees and increased the share of health insurance premiums that employees must pay, County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith said. The county no longer will fund Tri-River Transit, the public transportation agency serving Mingo, Boone, Logan and Lincoln counties. Mingo County Little Leagues, libraries and volunteer fire departments are looking at cuts and the county’s lone circuit court judge even solicited private lawyers for donations to help renovate the courthouse.

As mines shutter and coal production drops off, counties across Southern West Virginia are looking at budget crunches, the result of declining coal severance tax revenues and, indirectly, declining property tax revenue.

Boone County lost nearly $3 million in coal severance tax revenue from 2010 to last year.

Five years ago, Mingo County received about $1.7 million in coal severance tax money. Last year, it was about $1 million. This year, it’s expecting about $800,000, Smith said.

“I’m afraid that this is just the beginning…

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