Park County finalized its budget on Tuesday, a financing measure with nearly $800,000 in cuts made to make ends meet. The county was able to avoid terminating employees and services.
“It was not an easy process this year but I think we did a pretty good job,” commission chair Joe Tilden said.
The county’s departments will take a 2.4% overall cut in their budgets for the next year. Sales, use and fuel taxes are projected to be down a combined 40-60%.
Of the 14 main county departments, planning and zoning will take the biggest cut with a 10.8% reduction in funding, despite the department seeing record numbers for building permits and revenues in recent months. The majority of this reduction will come from an 8.9% drop in wages stemming from the commissioners’ decision to not replace a small wastewater administrator.
The assessor’s office was also denied in a recent request to replace an employee.
Pat Meyer, Park County assessor, said the county has had about 10 employees for the past 20 years.
This department receives and processes state certifications of value for utility companies and other large-scale operations as well as develops mill levies for 24 tax districts. Its most intensive labor comes from assessing the value of every county residence at least every six years, and whenever a property is sold in the county, staff visit the property to verify details of the sale. If a building permit is filed with the county, staff follow progress of the work.
In 1982, only 10% of the county’s valuation dollars came from sources outside oil and gas production. This year, 66% of valuation came from local sources while 34% came from oil and gas.
“It’s getting more important,” Meyer told the commissioners on June 16. “There’s a lot of stuff we’re missing out there … but we’re constantly moving towards finding better ways, finding more out there.”
Meyer said short-staffed assessor departments can lead to mass appeals from the public. He said Natrona County, which has 14 people in its department, has about 3,000 appeals in its queue right now. In contrast, Park County only has one about every year or two, he said.
Buildings and grounds will spend $821,708 on capital projects this year that will include replacing carpet in the courthouse, replacing a portion of a public works roof, seal coating several of the county parking lots, constructing a new coroner’s facility as well as HVAC replacement and installation of LED lights. The projects will amount to $112,617 in increased work.
The building and grounds department will take a 4.7% cut in overall funding.
The roads and bridges department will spend $2 million on four projects in the South Fork, Meeteetse and Willwood areas. Work on the $14.2 million Federal Land Access Program work in the South Fork for which the county contributed $2.3 million, is scheduled to be completed this fall.
Park County will also utilize federal transportation alternatives program funding to develop a walking and biking path outside Powell that will be built next summer.
Special funding requests for 24 local entities will be reduced by $266,411. A large chunk of the funding will come from the $132,226 that will not be dispersed to Yellowstone Regional Airport and $26,000 that will be held back from the Cody-Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources board. YRA will be receiving up to $18 million in CARES Act funding over the next four years.
The Cody Shooting Complex had its entire $16,000 in funding slashed as well.
None of the commissioners could explain why the county had been funding the Shooting Complex in the first place.
“I don’t know,” said commissioner Lee Livingston. “Like commissioner (Jake) Fulkerson said, I suppose it was decided in the days of $100 (per barrel) oil.”
The Park County Parks and Recreation Board will receive a 47.4% or $84,033 decrease in its funding.
“We’re going to have to look at groups and see who gets cuts,” board treasurer Colby Stenerson said.
Stenerson said the group still has to decide whether to make across-the-board cuts or eliminate funding entirely for certain recipients.
County funding for the library and museum boards will be down a combined 16.4%.
Although a 2% one-time bonus was passed on to the county’s employees in the budget, many county departments will still have a lower than 2% increase in overall wages due employee turnover and staff reductions by attrition. The treasurer’s office, which had its wages increase by 2.2%, and the computer information and technology department, where salaries rose by 9.1%, exceeded the 2% threshold because of merit raises granted in these departments by the commissioners in June.
County restores some of 4-H budget
After initially deciding to cut Park County 4-H’s funding by 40%, the commissioners backed off that total and added $2,000 to its budget for a total of $6,000 in funding. In 2019, Park County provided 4-H $10,000.
During a budget review hearing Monday, 11-year-old Abigail LaFrentz, a vice-president in the club, spoke on what Park County 4-H means to her.
“With 4-H I’ve learned animal husbandry, and how to take care of rabbits and pigs and cows and how to make friends, and sewing,” she said. “But it’s not only that. It’s the friends, and trusting one another, I think is a big part of it too.”
The speech drew a round of applause from the audience.
Tycee Mohler, 4-H & Youth Development Educator, said the organization runs on about $20,000 a year.
“We’re hopeful to fundraise to make up the funds,” she said.
Mohler said 4-H was able to save some funding this spring by hosting meetings online. She said participation has been down a little this summer.
“We try to make it as affordable as possible so we don’t limit participation,” she said.