Since determining last July the county has a budget shortfall, Park County officials have been discussing ways to make fiscal cuts for the next fiscal year, but to date, have taken few direct actions to save money.
“At some point we’ve just got to say no,” Park County commissioner Lloyd Thiel said while discussing whether to provide a $500 grant for a community review by the Wyoming Business Council. That grant was approved by a unanimous vote.
Since July, commissioner Joe Tilden has been spearheading monthly budget committee meetings designed for the purpose of brainstorming ideas as to how the county can save $2 million for this budget year.
“There’s some easy money to be had,” Tilden said. “There are a lot of what I consider to be philosophical recommendations without dollars attached to them, long-range, running the county more efficiently.”
Tilden said one possible route the county could go, would be to remove the road and bridge fund of about half its annual funding – a sum of roughly $500,000.
“This is No. 1 on my list,” Tilden said.
He will be presenting ideas and options he and the committee have devised at a commissioner meeting in early December.
“We’re going to know with a full six months to go – Jan. 1 – where the budget committee is at,” Fulkerson said.
But until the Wyoming legislative session finishes, Tilden said it will be difficult to make a road map as to where the county can make a substantial cut.
“That’s one of the reasons we have such a large reserve,” Tilden said. “We have to have between $8-$10 million in reserve because of our cash flow. The majority of our money comes in twice a year from taxes.”
A looming, potential variable in regard to the county budget is a piece of proposed legislation recently presented before the Wyoming Legislative Joint Committee on Revenue, which would impose a fifth penny or a one cent additional tax statewide. The bill would make the temporary tax that 21 out of 23 Wyoming counties currently have permanent. Park County and Sublette counties are the two that do not currently have this tax.
“If we get the fifth penny, Park County will be in great shape for awhile,” Tilden said. “It may kill any potential cap(ital)tax, but at least in the short term we’ll be in really good shape. And then we just have to prioritize our different projects and bill from there.”
Wyoming State Rep. Dan Laursen (Powell), a member of the revenue committee, said they are still working on the verbiage within the legislation, but he would not be in favor of it becoming permanent.
“I’m leery of any kind of permanent tax,” Laursen said. “I would vote against that for sure.”
The goal of the tax would be to provide local governments a permanent, municipal option revenue source as a way to replace at least some of the $105 million in state funding that is provided to municipalities each year. The tax would bring in more money on behalf of the voters, but without their say.
“I think the people would be up in arms if I voted for that,” Laursen said. “If it’s worthwhile people will put it in.”
Currently, voters in Wyoming communities have the option to vote on the tax every four years. If the bill were to pass, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association said it would provide sustainable funding and less disagreements between counties and municipalities competing for tax dollars.
The bill will be discussed at the committee’s next meeting in November.
While legislators prepare for a new session, county officials have already had to make a lot of budget decisions.
When the 2019-20 budget was enacted, the Park County commissioners put a hiring freeze in place and dictated that all new employee hirings be approved by the board before taking place. Since then, all positions that have come before them have been approved.
Each approval brought discussion during the public commissioner meetings and testimony from department managers as to why the position couldn’t be dropped.
“We’re not just going to roll over on every position,” chair Jake Fulkerson said at a July meeting.
An employee request for the county clerk’s office brought serious push back from some commissioners before the board eventually relented.
In addition, over the summer, the commissioners approved a part-time position at the Meeteetse library, three jobs at the Park County sheriff’s office, a part-time cook at the Park County detention center and a Park County museum employee – all to fill preexisting positions. Also this summer, two part-time positions in the Park County attorney’s office were replaced with one full-time spot and in August, Bryan Skoric, Park County district attorney, came back before the commissioners to replace prosecuting attorney Michael Greenwood and the county’s deputy attorney.
Skoric said former deputy attorney Leda Pojman’s tenure ended Aug. 30. She was replaced by 2008 Powell High School graduate Saige Smith.
During a work session held Tuesday, the commissioners did give the go-ahead for the job duties for a soon-to-be-terminated employee in the buildings and grounds department to be spread out among a few employees, instead of replacing the position.