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Fingers crossed as groups seek subsidies from commissioners

Apr 28, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

As declining tax revenue has hurt the ability of Fremont County's government to continue its work as usual, available funding for social services is becoming slimmer.

Each year, the county typically provides outside social services with upward of $1 million, though much of that is required by law.

The county's funding for social services, which had stayed relatively flat over the last six years, dropped almost 11 percent this year.

Last spring, the Fremont County Commission had considered pulling its discretionary funding altogether.

At the time, Center of Hope CEO Heath Steel sent a letter to the county board, said that losing $75,000 in county funding would created a create "a public safety issue" and "a majority of the clients would be arrested on public intoxication charges.

As the county board prepares to make decisions on its 2018 budget, leaders of social services groups are warning that further cuts could be devastating, especially as those resources become more important in a difficult financial environment.

Several groups are set to make their proposals at the county board's Tuesday meeting:

Sydney Moller, director of the county's Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, is requesting $5,000 from the county -- the same amount she got last year -- saying that "if we are to continue to keep up the demand for our services, we have to increase our capacity as a program and as a community to meet survivor's needs."

Moller said in her budget request that the alliance has seen a "steady increase in the number of completely new clients over the last year," including more than a 200 percent increase in shelter nights.

"We are faced with a very limited and precarious situation if we see any budget cuts," she said. "The rising cost of gas combined with our dedication to community outreach and Dubois office has been an expensive, but essential endeavor."

Al McClelland, executive director of Fremont County Group Homes, is requesting $6,750, which is $750 less than he received last year.

McClelland said his organization faces rising costs from aging homes and increasing utility and food costs. He said the nonprofit's two vans, which now have more than 180,000 miles on them, both need to be replaced.

McClelland's group is in the middle of building a new facility to replace its existing two houses.

The High Country Senior Citizens center in Dubois is requesting $7,000, the same amount it received last year. Program director Melissa Claar said that "local donation is down due to the economy, and we know that with the continued cut in funding, we will continue to see deficits grow."

Child Development Services are requesting $10,000, which its leaders said is needed for a 3 percent match guideline for grant funding.

"The loss of this financial assistance could result in the loss of part or all of our state and federal funding, and would directly affect our ability to secure other grants and foundation funding sources," according to the budget request.

Governmental groups

The city of Lander is requesting $50,000 over the next two years to complete an ongoing flood mitigation study with the Army Corps of Engineers for the Popo Agie watershed.

Riverton Regional Airport is asking for $50,000, the same amount it received last year. The county used to provide $95,000 each year until the state's economic downturn hit. Kyle Butterfield, Riverton's public works director," said the airport faces a shortfall in operating revenue "due to the continued decrease in funding from Fremont County and a decrease in revenues generated from lease agreements."

The City of Riverton provides the bulk of the funding for the airport, but Butterfield said that "with significant projected decreases in sales, use, and property tax revenues, the general fund of the City of Riverton is not healthy enough to absorb the entire operating shortfall at the airport."

The county also needs to decide whether to earmark $200,000 for a second year in a row as part of the minimum revenue guarantee for Denver Air Connection, which began serving the airport last year.

Those funds are part of the $2 million set aside by the state and local municipalities to ensure that Denver Air breaks even each year as it tries to establish a market.

Last year, the commission made no appropriation to Fire Warden Craig Haslam despite the fact that his crew "assisted Fremont County Emergency Management and other county agencies with emergency services and incidents within the county."

For the coming fiscal year, Haslam is set to request in $15,000 in May to reimburse the fire district for "a percentage of the fire district chief's salary, vehicle use, administrative supplies, meeting expenses including travel, motel, and meals, and to help with projects within the county associated with his duties as the Fremont County Fire Warden."

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