Members of the McDowell County Commission hope that forthcoming property, real estate and coal severance tax revenue estimates will allow them to avoid additional budget cuts. But they are, nevertheless, painting a bleak picture of the county’s current economic woes.
The commissioners say they are struggling to meet payroll and provide basic services. Each county department has seen a 10 percent cut in its budget. Staffing levels are currently at bare bones, and a regional jail bill estimated at $55,000 to $60,000 a month has been particularly problematic.
A decision on additional cuts was delayed by the commissioners during their meeting on Aug. 1. They are waiting to see what the preliminary property, real estate and coal severance taxes look like. The board hopes to have those numbers in by their next meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 14. The budget situation is expected to be discussed again at that time.
“We have about a $50,000 window,” Commission President Cecil Patterson said at the Aug. 1 meeting, adding that if revenues keep dropping, the money simply will not be there.
“We have no tax base,” Patterson added, pointing to the recent closures of both Walmart and Magic Mart. He says the commission also is looking at temporarily shutting down the county’s holding facility — which costs about $260,000 a year — until the budget situation improves.
Patterson said if the taxes come in as hoped for, the county would basically “end up even to about $50,000 ahead if everything works out perfect.”
However, that may not be the case, and it could go the other way.
For example, Patterson says the coal severance check (which comes in every three months) was down about $10,000 from the same period last year, so that revenue is unpredictable. “That (the drop in coal severance tax revenue) flew up a red flag. Hopefully, the property taxes come in as projected and we will be OK.”
The commissioners also are appealing to Gov. Jim Justice and state lawmakers to help with the economic situation in the county.
We know times are tough, but the commissioners shouldn’t throw in the towel.
The key to success moving forward for McDowell County will largely rest with small business growth. Those smaller mom-and-pop-type shops will provide essential services needed for county residents.
Local entrepreneurs can also help by opening up smaller stores, restaurants and other necessities, such as hotels, motels and ATV lodging that is urgently needed along the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. Keep in mind that there are two Hatfield-McCoy systems — the Indian Ridge and Warrior Mine trails — operating in McDowell County, so the county should be working to recruit entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in the trail system.
There also needs to be communication and coordination among county officials, the individual towns and local and state lawmakers.
All is not doom and gloom. As residents of Welch have noticed in recent days, the walls are coming up quickly on the new $7 million Renaissance Village in Welch. Once completed, this long-awaited project will bring additional vehicular and foot traffic to the county seat. Plus, as reported earlier this week, the regional Goodson’s Supermarket chain has acquired the old Magic Mart in Welch and is trying to sublease it out to another business. The shopping center that houses Goodson’s Supermarket, Wendy’s and the old Magic Mart stays busy, so it would be an ideal location for a prospective retail business or related development.
No, the county’s current economic challenges aren’t going to be solved overnight. But hope is important. The county must be aggressive in marketing and showcasing its strengths and assets to prospective businesses, both big and small.