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Firefighters battling budget cuts in Pike County

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT/WSAZ) - In Pike County on Wednesday, firefighters were fighting back against budget cuts that could cost some volunteer fire departments thousands of dollars.

These budget cuts all stem from a $3.2 million dip in coal severance money for Pike County.

A vote on the budget will not happen until the next regular fiscal court meeting, but firefighters say they want to make sure their voices are heard in time to change things.

"Lives on the line," firefighter Randy Courtney says. "Both for the homeowner and for the firemen."

He's a firefighter at Island Creek, which will lose $2,500 this year if the budget is passed. Courtney also is the president of the Pike County Firefighter's Association.

"A pair of boots and a helmet," he said. "That's 500 dollars for somebody. A nozzle for your fire engine -- 500 dollars. You go out on a fire scene, it's easy to tear up stuff. A couple sections of hose -- that's 500 dollars."

Courtney says cuts like this could cause some fire departments to lose their ISO ratings, which means some homeowners fire insurance could go up several hundred dollars a year - or worse.

"Biggest fear is that we'd have to have some of the fire departments close," Courtney said. "Some of the smaller, (more rural) departments."

And that would mean longer response times and decreased safety.

The judge executive says coal severance funds are down more than $3 million this year, and every department in the county is getting cut.

He says he believes in the fire departments and wants to help them as much as he can.

"Who established fire departments?" Judge Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said. "You only had two in the county when I became judge back in the 70s. We've got all these stations now."

He says the county already pays insurance on the vehicles, utilities and owns the buildings.

But Courtney wants more of a compromise.

"We're willing to work with them on this," he said. "We're willing to help them decide this if this is the best way, what the amount should be."

Courtney says firefighters would like to at least see a fire service fee added to help replace this lost money.

The judge executive says he will make sure the fire departments are taken care of and that these are the last cuts for a long time.

He says the county has made cuts the last two years, and he's looking at new revenue sources aside from those coal severance funds.

Every county department is receiving cuts. Twenty positions have been combined or eliminated, which means eight people will lose their jobs if the budget is approved.

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