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County mulls budget cuts in hours of hearings

May 5, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

In the last month, the Fremont County Commission has held more than 12 hours of budget hearings with elected officials and department heads as it tries to deepen the cuts it made last year.

The county board has asked officials to try reducing their budgets by 10 percent, and the results so far have been hit-or-miss.

The commissioners themselves have prepared a budget increase of $13,338 after the retirement of former chairman Doug Thompson meant younger commissioners who require more money to be expended for benefits.

Last year, the county board was able to offset its budget shortfall by tapping its cash reserves, but those funds are now growing short.

After it finishes reviewing budget proposals, the county board will spend another month evaluating the proposals before meeting with department heads again.

Sheriff's office

Sheriff Skip Hornecker, who prepared only a 2 percent budget cut, said that a dramatic change to offset costs could give the perception that he's "policing for profit."

Trustees ordered a hiring freeze last summer, requiring all departments and officials to seek board approval before replacing staff. However, the board waived that requirement temporarily for Hornecker to hire dispatch personnel "as needed."

Hornecker is facing a staffing crisis in that department and said he expects to lose 50 percent of his staff this year.

He also increased his budget request for the county jail by 1 percent, saying he needs sufficient manpower to "minimize litigation and officer safety issues." Hornecker is also facing a staffing shortage at the jail and said the security for public access to the jail needs to be upgraded.

"The public that enters these areas have no security checkpoint, and while we concentrate on restricting contraband, the areas are unsecured for weapons into these critical areas," he said.

Maintenance

J.R. Oakley, who heads the maintenance of county buildings, also said it's impossible for him to make a 10 percent cut because only a small fraction of his budget is discretionary.

"The 10 percent I control is the maintenance of the buildings," he said. "To achieve a reduction, I can lay an employee off, I can delay my rent payments one year, or I can quit cleaning or quit fixing."

Oakley said that when he took over building maintenance, the department controlled 18 buildings. Now, he has 26, though his budget has gone up less than 2 percent each year over the last eight years.

He proposed only a 1 percent cut.

"I don't think we're wasting money at all," he said. "I think we've shown a history of being conservative ... so I've struggled with (the) budget message."

After the county's three-year deal for natural gas ends, Oakley added, there's a strong possibility of a significant rate increase in the 2019 fiscal year.

Oakley said the county will also need to prepare for a $30,000 upgrade to the courthouse's heating and cooling system and a $32,000 replacement of carpet.

IT

Kevin Shultz, the one-man-show for information technology in the courthouse, proposed a 10.6 percent cut, with server expenditures significantly reduced after the county moved most of its system to the cloud in 2016. Its three racks of servers have now been reduced to one.

Shultz's budgeting method is to "prepare for the worst," so he's currently projecting that one-third of his 2017 budget will go unspent.

Shultz has cut the budget for "backup technical support" by half but said the county needs to enter the "planning stages" to replace equipment for network connectivity.

The "most complex" server, used by the attorney's office, he said, is "running on borrowed time."

Shultz said there needs to be an effort to reduce printing within the courthouse, saying that a "re-engineering of our printing footprint would be desirable."

"The number of printers and the cost associated with them is almost certainly higher than it needs to be," he said. "Users do not understand the gravity of their printing selections and should be trained."

If the county board accepts the information technology budget proposal, Shultz will have seen his funding drop 20 percent since 2015. He said the county needs to plan for an eventual overhaul to its network, telephone system and website.

The "obsolescence" of the county's network means a replacement would be a "cost effective solution" to outages which have, at times, stopped the work of some departments for days.

Shultz said the county's website, as well, should be replaced, as it is not "ADA compliant" and is "dated, unattractive and lacks functionality that is necessary at this time."

Public health

Public health supervisor Kathy Laidlaw prepared a slight increase from last year's budget proposal and said she's worried that "possible changes to the Affordable Care Act may impact the funding streams for family planning."

Her department has applied for a three-year competitive grant from the Wyoming Health Council, but Laidlaw said she has yet to hear whether the application has been accepted.

Laidlaw also prepared a slight increase to the budget for maternal child health, which provides nursing contact, home visiting and support for women and their infants from pregnancy through toddlerhood. While Fremont County continues to have the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the state, Laidlaw said state and federal funding have become harder to come by.

State funding for maternal child health has historically been used up three months before the end of each fiscal year. Laidlaw is currently requesting more state funding for maternal child health and welfare funding. However, the state legislature has reduced funding for maternal child health by $240,000.

Drug court

After the Wyoming Legislature made significant cuts to court-assisted supervised drug treatments, local drug court director Susan Shipley has decided to lay off a probation officer position July 1; the state probation office has agreed to provide those services.

The county's matching expenses will be cut by $14,000.

Shipley has proposed an 18 percent cut for the juvenile treatment court. She said it will be important to increase the number of clients the court serves, since state reimbursements are based on client numbers.

The court currently treats about 12 clients per month. If that number were to increase to 17, Shipley said more funding would be available from the Wyoming Department of Health to hire an additional staff member.

Commissioner Clarence Thomas has suggested that the high number of tribal clientele means both drug courts would be eligible for significant grant dollars from the Department of Justice's Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation program.

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2017-10-22

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