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H-L takes a look at how coal severance funds are spent in one eastern KY town

November 30, 2009

The Herald-Leader’s John Cheves and Dori Hjalmarson have taken a look at how one eastern Kentucky community is spending its coal severance funds.

The funds are allocated each year from a levy on coal extraction that is designed to compensate local communities for the long-term loss of the natural resource.

Initially, the intention was to put those coal severance dollars into economic development, but portions are skimmed off by the state before being returned to communities, and the communities themselves have adopted a broader definition of what constitutes economic development.

In today’s article, Cheves and Hjalmarson followed how a $120,000 appropriation of coal severance funds to the Phelps History Center was spent, and found that it was used to purchase athletic uniforms, ice cream, school lockers and other education-related items.

Many of the items were used in theatrical performances, which was the original intent of the appropriation, but were diverted to Phelps High School for the use by students.

Using the money in that way appears to be contrary to the intent, said Bob Sexton, executive director for the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

“If we’re setting aside money for more educational spending, great. Let’s step back and have an open, transparent discussion about the needs of the school districts and where this might be invested. But that’s not what happened here,” said Bob Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

“Obviously, sports and team mascots and school colors are important, but they’re not the core mission of our schools, and they’re not what we need to be spending our tax money on,” Sexton said.

The lawmaker who secured the appropriation – Democrat Rep. Keith Hall – defended the use, and bristled at the questions about how the money was used.

From the article –

“The way I look at it is, anything that enhances the quality of life in those communities, I’m in favor of doing it,” Hall said. “And let me tell you something else. We in the mountains don’t take too kindly to people telling us how to spend our money.”

Be sure to check out the full article.

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