Still facing deficit, county to tap savings one more time

May 28, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

A half-day budget-cutting effort last week barely dented the $2.3 million shortfall.

When the Fremont County Commission met Tuesday, it had a $2.3 million budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.

After spending hours hammering out more cuts, that deficit was still $2.2 million.

The shortfall comes even after department heads and elected officials were asked to make a 10 percent cut from their 2017 fiscal year budgets.

After those cuts, the current proposed budget of $25.7 million is now $7.8 million less than the 2017 fiscal year budget.

If the board opts not to cut much deeper, the county will need to tap some of the funds that are on the verge of running dry.

Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger has offered to backfill -- for a second year -- the deficit with those funds. If that's the plan, this will likely be the last year that's possible.

The budget crunch comes as the county board has struggled to keep up with quickly declining tax revenue that's come with Wyoming's energy-based economic downturn

The county made an 11 percent budget cut last time around but still had considerable deficit spending this past year.

Under the current proposed budget for the coming year, the county would tap its capital revolving fund -- a sort of internal bank -- for $1.2 million, its investments for $250,000, the road construction fund for $400,000, and the health insurance fund for $550,000.

"We are at the end of the cash savings," county board chairman Travis Becker said. "We might have some next year, but we won't have nearly as much as we have this year."

Becker believes that if no further cuts were made, budget deliberations in 2018 will come with sudden and drastic elimination of programs.

"If we kick the can down the road ... next year you won't have a choice," Becker said. "If we don't cut down to the bone and completely cut out programs (this year) -- and I'm not suggesting that we do -- we need to come up with a plan for the future."

Becker made the first cut unilaterally even before the meeting started this week, cutting the recreation board's budget from $345,000 down to $225,000.

The recreation board actually had proposed a budget increase next year of $95,000 to account for costs at the Green Mountain project and facility improvements at the Youth Camp.

The main target of the discussions on Tuesday was the Fremont County Library System. Commissioners agreed to ask for further cuts there.

Commissioner Clarence Tho-mas praised library leadership for already making a budget cut of roughly $200,000, but has consistently expressed concerned over the library's structure.

"It's seems like they love to invest in second-level management," he said. "Are they trying to do more then and multi-task, or are they just eating up their budget?"

Because the library has its own governing board overseeing it, Thomas has resisted becoming overly involved with the library, but he said the library board need to "evaluate their system and what they're responsible for" in order to "lower our costs while bringing efficient services to the community."

By the end of Tuesday's session, the county board had agreed that more cuts will need to be made.

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