To cover this year’s projected deficit, the Park County Commissioners is looking at transferring nearly $1.3 million out of reserves.
In 2018 the county was able to transfer that same total into its reserves. Now the county will be transferring the $1.3 million back out and will be cutting nearly $1 million in expenses to cover the $1.9 million deficit. The county is expecting a total of $25.6 million in expenses for the upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year.
“It’s very apparent we’ll have to take money out of reserves,” chair Jake Fulkerson said.
The commissioners will hold a public hearing 6 p.m. July 8 to present the budget. The next day they will vote during the commissioners meeting on whether to formally approve the new budget.
Expenses are actually dropping entering the new fiscal year by $178,917 but revenues are projected to decrease by $3.5 million.
Most notable of the funding shortage is a $500,000 shortfall compared to the previous year for Property In Lieu of Taxes. PILT funding is issued through the federal government as reimbursement for property tax revenue missing from publicly held lands run by agencies such as the BLM and Bureau of Reclamation.
Fulkerson said an over-dispersal of PILT and Secure Rural Schools funding the county received in prior years led the government to dole out less money than 2018 and projected by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association for the upcoming budget cycle.
“We assumed, which wasn’t the best thing to do,” said Park County treasurer Barb Poley.
Although the two funds are separate, they are interconnected in their dispersal. Since the county received about $560,000 less than average in SRS funding for 2017, 2018 became a makeup year for PILT. What was missed in the budget projection was the 2018-19 total had been far above average.
Also contributing to the short budget, Fulkerson said, was a “tight” budget projection from the previous year. After garnering carry-over funds of more than $2 million for a few prior years due over-budgeting, the county has only amassed $720,000 in leftover funds entering the upcoming fiscal year.
“Every year we’ve had expenditures exceeding revenues, but we’ve always had a carry-over to cover it,” Fulkerson said. “If anything we’re guilty of our own good budgeting.”
Fulkerson also added retirement and health insurance costs will be rising, and the county has added employees.
Commissioner Lee Livingston expressed hesitation about pulling from reserves on Tuesday.
“I want to have some cushion for a big project … to be able to play with,” he said.
In order to cover the “red,” the county will cut about $970,000 in planned funding from its road and bridge budget in the next year.
“When we have a tough year we can delay things like chip sealing for a year,” county engineer Brian Edwards said. “We can’t do that every year – we’ll be in trouble.”
The county will forgo $550,000 in chip sealing on roads for the next year and other road and bridge costs.
The county chose to still perform fresh-crushed gravel application after much debate, a move commissioner Joe Tilden and Livingston adamantly supported. If Park had passed on this operation it would have had to transport gravel in from the upper South Fork.
“I’d like you to leave the gravel in there,” Livingston said. “That’s a money saver.”
The county will still move forward in the next year with a roughly $450,000 project to build a coroner’s office next to the Park County Detention Center. It will also spend $400,000 on a new bridge on County Road YXD in the South Fork. Funding for that project will come out of the county road fund.
The commissioners and Edwards discussed using unspent money from the one cent sales tax to fund this project, but all parties decided it would be too much of a stretch to justify the bridge construction being funded this way. All the counties and municipalities receiving funds from the one cent tax can only use that money on a specific set of projects.
At their meeting Tuesday the commissioners also made efforts to trim fat from smaller-scale expenditures, such as the 12 county boards and special funding requests. After some back and forth, the county’s recycling centers were the only to receive cuts, losing 50 percent or $2,189 of their annual funding.
Despite the deficit, a few boards saw increases to their budgets, including the county commissioners.
Property tax revenue is to grow by 2.3 percent and add nearly $200,000 more in revenue than last year.
There will be no changes to the county’s employee salaries for the next year and the commissioners will discuss a potential hiring freeze in the coming weeks.
Reserve funding is usually garnered from unspent funds. It is typically viewed as a safety net by government agencies for budget deficits and other unforeseen expenses like infrastructure and natural emergencies.
Commissioner Lloyd Thiel favors the county retaining as much in reserve funds as possible.
The county will be receiving $8.6 million from the federal government for the Federal Land Access Program South Fork Road improvements project over the next few years. The county also has $66,000 in unused grant money and $14,000 in Park County Fair funds it can use towards the deficit.
Although the county still has more than $14 million left in its reserves even after the loss, making up the shortfall from this fiscal year will be a debt felt for years to come, Fulkerson said.
“This is not sustainable stuff,” he said. “We need next year and the year after to come up with this $2 million.”
The next one-cent tax could be approved by voters as soon as November 2020. The most recent tax concluded this March.
“The larger projects that we want to accomplish – we’re going to need support from the one cent tax,” Fulkerson said. “The county is now where the city (of Cody) is.”
Cody City Council recently determined the municipality fell $4.34 million short in revenue for its next fiscal year.
Tilden said a committee will be set up to study how the county can reverse the deficit for the future.
Fulkerson said the county has a confident projection that it will have a more accurate projection for its PILT funding next year.
“Everything we did today makes sense but we have this $1.9 million we have to go find,” Fulkerson said.