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'Non-essential' agencies pull off requested budget cuts

May 2, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

When the Fremont County Commission asked its officials for a 10-percent budget cut, departments with statutory obligations generally fell far short of that mark.

But other departments with more elective expenses, and outside groups reliant on the county, have fared better so far when meeting with the county board.

Extension

Alex Malcolm, who heads the University of Wyoming Extension office in Fremont County, presented a 19-percent budget cut, which earned praise from Commissioner Clarence Thomas.

"A lot of other groups snarl and kick and act like they can't (make cuts), but they can," Thomas said.

Malcolm is eliminating one of his secretarial positions, pushing more work onto existing staff.

Museums

Scott Goetz, the county's museum director, presented a cut of 13 percent, which was made possible by a reduction in insurance benefits.

"If you don't count insurance benefits, we'd manage to save roughly 7.5 percent," Goetz said.

Unlike this year, Goetz said he won't plan a traveling exhibit for the upcoming fiscal year. He also has reduced some part-time hours, which has strained the staff's ability to keep the museums open during the expanded hours that were adopted in the last couple of years.

However, reducing part-time employee hours any more, he said, could backfire on his balance sheet, because changing the museum's hours would detract from its self-generated revenue.

"It's going to be imperative to get our self-generated revenue up in the next couple years," he said.

Goetz is expecting to increase revenue through sales, donations and fees in coming years, but he said he'll need "a development coordinator" to truly maximize the number of donations.

Goetz said he'd like to add volunteer positions, but those would also require "a significant amount of the paid staff resources to properly train, supervise and organize the program."

Fair

Barney Cosner, director of the Fremont County Fair, plans only negligible cuts after the county board last year said his initial budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year was overzealous.

Last spring, Cosner was the only official in the county to have proposed salary reductions. The county board nixed that proposal.

The fair board nixed another personnel proposal which county clerk Julie Freese warned might reinvigorate issues auditors have noted in the past regarding the fair's operations.

Thomas said he thinks the county fair is in a unique position because it has the strategic ability to increase revenue. With the right planning, he said, it could become "very self-sustainable within a year or two."

Cosner agreed that he has an unusual opportunity but said he's hampered by an "elderly" grandstand with limited seating.

In recent years, the fair's evening programs have relied on temporary seating brought in with the backing of the Friends of the Fremont County Fair.

It's also hard, he said, to maintain a diversity of programs while making money.

"If we could come up with seven nights of demolition derbies, we'd all be saints," he said, emphasizing that program is by far the most lucrative.

Cosner said it's difficult to guarantee a good stream of revenue because the weather for night shows plays such a large factor in attendance.

"I have to be optimistic on Mother Nature being a very good partner," he said.

Rec board

Not all groups, though, are making cuts.

The county's recreation board, which has a highly fluctuating budget from year to year, has actually requested a budget increase of 38 percent.

The board is expecting increased maintenance for a project on Green Mountain this year as result of the wet spring. Weather aside, the maintenance of that facility was expected become more expensive as the facility and its use continues to grow.

The expansion will "significantly require increased pumping of restrooms, trash pickup, and other routine maintenance," Kristen Ressler said in the recreation board request.

Ressler said the county's youth camp is also "an on-going concern as the foundation is crumbling and needs repaired with the replacement of log stacks or we could potentially need to close it until safety hazards can be repaired."

The recreation board's expenses are expected to be reduced somewhat after the coming budget year since the board is in its final year of repayment to the county for the Green Mountain project.

Last year, the county commissioners took away all cash reserves from its "off-line" boards. Ressler has asked for the recreation board's cash reserve to be returned and said that its removal meant the board didn't have funds available when a loan payment for the Green Mountain project was due.

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