HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - More than one dozen Perry County sheriff's Department employees will likely be headed to the unemployment line by the end of the week.
Sheriff Les Burgett says the layoffs are unfortunate, but necessary to make sure the department can pay its bills.
He says his department has suffered a "direct hit" from declines in the coal industry.
Fifteen sheriff's department employees are to be laid off, including road deputies, office staff, and security workers at the Perry County Hall of Justice.
The sheriff says a number of factors are contributing to the financial pinch, including waning delinquent tax commissions.
"This time last year, we had collected $120,000. At this time we've collected about $20,000, and that has really put a burden on our office," Burgett said.
All this, county officials contend, is due to a downturn in coal production in the region.
"We're right now looking at one coal company that's went bankrupt," said Perry County Judge/Executive Denny Ray Noble. "The coal miners getting laid off has really affected the county government and how it operates."
As coal receipts across the region continue to evaporate, Sheriff Burgett says he wonders why counties that don't produce coal should benefit from the coal severance tax. Counties like Fayette, which has $2.5 million earmarked for the renovation of Rupp Arena.
"I love the Wildcats and I enjoy watching them as much as anybody does, but it's not right. There's nothing right about taking our money, our coal severance money and putting it in Rupp Arena when our people are suffering like we do here."
Hopefully, the sheriff says, some of those employees will be able to come back to work when the department resumes tax collection in October.
In the meantime, those that remain will have to figure out how to do more with more than half their current staff gone.
Noble says the county is looking at making a few temporary layoffs as well, including two county police that patrol the county park.