With the coal industry on life support, officials anticipate it will be a bleak year – at least in economic terms – for Wyoming County. Less coal production translates directly to fewer tax dollars for government agencies.
“The economy is going to continue to be on the front burner in 2016,” emphasized Frank Blackwell, county schools superintendent. Blackwell has also been named as the replacement for the House of Delegates District 25 seat, vacated by Linda Phillips on Dec. 31. He is taking a leave of absence from his job to serve in the current legislative session.
“All the major indicators say it is not looking good for the coalfields of southern West Virginia,” Blackwell said.
“We’re going to have to worry about revenue, not just for the school system, but for all county government agencies,” he said.
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“The budget is going to be our biggest challenge,” noted Silas Mullins, county commissioner, of the year ahead.
“We’re being asked to do the same things we’ve been doing, but with less money,” Mullins added.
“Thank goodness we’ve taken steps to cushion the blow.
“Two years ago, we began preparing for this economic crisis,” Mullins said.
“We have not replaced those who have retired. We have kept the employees we have now and their benefits.
“But we have to be realistic; we can’t bury our heads in the sand,” Mullins said.
Mullins noted that some county businesses have been forced to close, while others are cutting back.
“Even private citizens are going to have to be frugal,” the commissioner said.
“It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better,” Mullins believes.
Wyoming County officials have been able to pay the jail bill, which totals about $1 million annually.
“Some counties can’t pay their jail bills,” Mullins said. “Our community corrections program has kept our bill reasonable and allowed us to protect the citizens of Wyoming County.”
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Blackwell said the school system is looking to eliminate duplications and anything else they can do without.
“We’re looking at different options. We know we are going to lose more revenue in 2016,” Blackwell said.
“My biggest concern is – how many years is this going to continue,” Blackwell emphasized.
“Of course, we’ve suffered through these downturns before; but this may be the worst one I’ve seen in my years here.
“It’s going to take some hard, very serious work to withstand this economic storm,” he said. “2016 will be poor economic times for almost everyone.”