News of the Perry County Sheriff’s Office being forced to issue layoffs this year should not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has paid attention. Perhaps the worst thing about 15 people losing their jobs is this is likely the tip of the iceberg outside of the coal industry.
For the past two years the local coal industry has shed jobs to the tune of 6,000 employees. Some coal companies have closed shop all together in Eastern Kentucky, leaving fewer jobs and less of a tax base on which local government agencies like the sheriff’s office must depend.
As a result, Sheriff Les Burgett this week did something noone in public office wants to do—hand out pink slips to employees.
The county government is also not immune to the effects of a declining coal industry. Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble told the Herald this week he will shut down the Perry County Police Department, which had been tasked with patrolling the county’s parks. Noble also was forced to cut two of the county’s office positions.
Perry County’s unemployment rate has hovered around 13 percent for the past months, and is an ever-increasing figure. There is no silver bullet we’re aware of to reverse this trend, but certainly there are some things that can be done in the short term.
For one, the legislature has to recognize a sea change is occurring in Eastern Kentucky. Even our local officials acknowledge the coal industry will likely not return to what it was just 10 years ago. To that end, our state lawmakers should begin diverting more coal severance to the coal-producing counties struggling the most with high unemployment to create or fund existing training programs for miners who have lost employment and may be looking elsewhere for work. Sending millions to counties outside of the coalfields enjoying relatively low rates of unemployment, simply to improve entertainment venues, is no help to us. It seems, however, that some lawmakers, even at least one here in Eastern Kentucky, don’t see the writing on the wall.
This is a significant time for our region and one in which we can either sink our economy by inaction, or get our heads above water and forge a new region for future generations. There are no easy answers, and we don’t expect things like increased access to coal severance will come without controversy when legislators outside of the coalfields want a bigger piece of the pie as well. We don’t have all the answers and do not claim to, but if our region and state can work together we’re confident Eastern Kentucky can build a new economy that benefits both from existing coal mining interests and other industries.
For Eastern Kentucky this seems to be a very uncertain time, and if there is anything this week’s layoffs can tell us, it’s that our state can’t wait around any longer for more businesses to close and more people to lose their jobs.
— The Hazard Herald