Last week Park County passed its annual budget and for commissioner Joe Tilden, now in his 11th year on the job, it was the easiest one he could remember making. He said it was the first time as commissioner that the county exceeded its projected budget, allowing the comissioners to grant raises to its employees and commit to a number of projects that had been long delayed.
“We’ve always been struggling to find additional money, cutting and cutting,” he said.
Despite that, the county was still able to carry $443,268 over into reserves, giving the county $26.3 million in total available funds.
Park County Treasurer Barb Poley said she forecasted “a little too conservatively” for last year’s budget. However, she did use many of last year’s projections to create the upcoming budget.
The county was buffered by $1.7 million in CARES Act revenue received in the last year.
“I’m glad we’re putting some money back in reserves,” commissioner chairman Lee Livingston said. “I know we’ve been accused of having too much in reserves, but a lot of folks don’t realize we need between about $8-$9 million in cash flow.
“Having money can sometimes save you money.”
Park County had about $3.7 million or 14.7% more revenue than budgeted, finishing with $25,473,217 for the year, the highest revenue amount since the 2015/16 fiscal year. In 2020, Park County only had $21.5 million in revenue.
The county also saw a $161,733 increase in its property-in-lieu-of-tax revenue funding for next year’s budget, federal dollars disbursed annually as a makeup for the property tax revenue lost from federal lands in the county.
Without those CARES Act and PILT monies, Park County would have seen $21.5 million in revenue, amounting to a $33,017 increase compared to last year.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we can continue forward in decent shape,” Livingston said, “but it won’t surprise me to see us scraping a little bit next year because it takes a while for those bad years to catch up with us.”
The county wound up with $4.06 million in cash carryover from the 2020-21 fiscal year budget that will be used to balance the budget in the next fiscal year, as the county’s assessed valuation is projected to decrease 11.4% from $8.3 million to $7.5 million.
The county’s reserves grew by $735,996 to $17,141,539.
Without the CARES money, the county would have had to pull around $1.2 million from reserves in order to support its current budget.
“We would have had to of cut budgets,” Poley said.
Property tax revenue from 2020 was down 1.1% mostly due to the slump in the oil and gas industry. Another downturn for 7.8% is projected next year.
For the fiscal year 2021-22, the county is projecting a 0.2% decrease in revenue from the prior year’s budget projection.
“The property taxes (is) the majority of it,” Poley said.
Lodging tax revenue was down by $81,331, but sales tax revenue was only down by $15,045, both combining with the use tax for about $4.6 million in revenue. Poley is projecting a 12% decrease in lodging tax revenue and a 28.3% increase in sales tax revenue compared to last year’s budget, in anticipation of growth in oil and gas and real estate.
The county was $1.6 million over budget for expenses in the 2020-21 fiscal year, finishing at $23.8 million. It did, however, incur $418,319 fewer expenses than the previous fiscal year, despite having to pay more than $300,000 in COVID-19-related costs.
For the next year, Park County is projecting $25.8 million in expenses, a 6.6% increase in projected expenses.
The commissioners were $16,126 over-budget in the last fiscal year, an overage Livingston attributed to $30,582 in legal expenses associated with the Vanguard Natural Resources lawsuit challenging more than $2.1 million in property taxes from 2017.
The board’s budget will be 2.1% smaller next year.
The treasurer’s office exceeded its budget by 1.8% due to $10,429 in higher-than-projected health insurance claims and retiring employees. Planning and zoning was over by $18,276 for wages and salaries. P&Z added an employee during the year and will have its budget increased by 20.9% next year.
The events coordinator department, in charge of the Park County Fair and all activities at the fairgrounds, was $141,891 under-budget for the year, mostly from eliminating nearly all temporary employees for the 2020 fair.
Despite adding a new facility to manage with the new coroner’s building, building and grounds was still down $118,262, mostly due to reduced employee wages and salaries.
Next year, B&G has around $500,000 in projects planned, including new carpet, blinds and roof maintenance at the courthouse, parking lot improvements at the Park County Complex, and $252,230 for three new HVAC units.
Despite five other departments being over-budget, the county’s departments as a whole finished nearly $300,000 under budget.
The road and bridge fund, which currently sits at around $766,000, will be increased by 10.3%, mostly from a $315,487 increase in road materials.
About $600,000 in work is planned for the Diamond Basin Road, as well as a $200,000 bridge replacement on County Road 6EH.
The county will apply to participate in the Federal Land Access Program again this year for another South Fork Highway rehabilitation project, to which it would contribute $2.3 million.
Information and Technology will see a 30% increase in its budget due to an $18,000 rise in contracts, services and professional fees.
The county’s 911 dispatch services are projecting $262,000 in revenue next year.
Solid Waste, which is treated as a stand-alone enterprise fund outside the general budget, will see a 110% increase to its budget due to $145,000 in repairs that will occur at the landfill. The department posted $5.9 million in revenues last year. It projects $3.3 million in expenses for the next year.
The Park County Fair and Advisory Board will see a $144,458 increase to its budget as the county will fund its beer sales and other general costs after only spending $4,500 on these costs for last year’s smaller fair due to COVID.
After slashing special funding for nonprofits and other local entities by around 37% last year, the county increased the budget for this account by 6.3% or $15,000 this year.
For the second year in a row the Cody Shooting Complex was denied in its request for $18,000 with no funds approved.
The Park County Animal Shelter will receive $9,000 in funding after not being granted any funds the previous year.
In June the commissioners voted to give all county employees a 50-cent-per-hour raise and funding for the equivalent of a two-step wage increase for every employee in each department, to be disbursed to the department heads and distributed as they see fit, at a cost of $435,000 to the county.
“I’m happy you found a way to give a raise to all the employees, especially like the idea of being able to pool money and give it to the departments and allocate it as they deem instead of across the board,” said former commissioner Loren Grosskopf during the budget hearing meeting on July 12. “We’ve been falling behind for a lot of years.”
Park County will also receive $5.7 million through the America Rescue Plan Act to fund infrastructure projects. That money is in a seperate fund.