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Legislators say revenue crisis shouldn't block WLRC change

Jun 1, 2016 By Christina George, Staff Writer

The legislative task force overseeing renovations and construction at the Wyoming Life Resource Center in Lander and the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston doesn't want the state's diminishing revenues to stall the projects.

"I have said publicly everything is on the table. That doesn't mean I want to stop some projects, and I happen to think this one has high priority," said State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.

Bebout co-chairs the Joint Legislative and Executive Task Force on Department of Health Facilities, which held a telephone conference May 17 to discuss the new dual missions at state-run medical facilities.

State revenue continues to tumble given what's happening in the energy sector.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead in April asked all state agencies to cut another 8 percent from their budgets for fiscal year 2017. Mead's request followed previous cuts made to funding for state agencies and programs by the Legislature.

About $80 million has already been set aside for the $149 million projects at the WLRC and WSH. The Legislature this year appropriated another $70 million. However, the budget is prepared in a way that if revenues don't come in as projected, projects don't happen.

The task force is hoping both facilities could be fixed at the same time, but that might not be possible given the state's current financial situation. If full funding doesn't come in as planned, the task force agreed to first renovate the WSH followed by the WLRC.

Wyoming Department of Health Director Tom Forslund told his fellow task force members reductions in his department and where they will occur remain up in the air.

"My feeling is, I have two facilities here we are dealing with, and the Wyoming State Hospital has significant capital construction needs that need to be addressed," Forslund said. "I am really not in a position to make large significant cuts at those facilities, so we are trying to move forward the best way that we can, but truthfully, it's a challenge."

As Wyoming continues to deal with a shortfall in revenues and additional cuts loom, Bebout said it's important for the task force to keep in the back of their mind why the projects are important.

"One of the things this project is so important is, as we look at reduction in revenues, when this is up and running, this is one-time money to create a safety-net for citizens, and it should be cost effective," Bebout said. "I think this project, both the state hospital and the WLRC, are pretty high on my priority list."

Forslund added the state's revenue outlook is creating recruitment and retention issues for the health department because of "the unknown."

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