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County budget tops $40 million; large fund held in reserve

Jul 1, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Public hearing set Monday in Lander

Fremont County Commissioners are proposing a fiscal year 2015 budget totaling just over $40 million. It covers the county general fund, library system, museums, recreation board and the county fair.

The budget also would permit county board to add $1.3 million to the cash reserve.

Commissioners want to keep a large amount of cash on hand because several major costs could arise.

A public hearing on the budget is planned for 5:30 p.m. Monday in the commission chambers at the Fremont County Courthouse in Lander.

One looming expense is $800,000 to upgrade 911-call equipment at Fremont County's dispatch center in the next few years, commission vice chairwoman Keja Whiteman said in an interview. At the same meeting, Fremont County Sheriff's Office officials said normal revenue to buy such items would fall short within two years.

The ambulance department also could lead to a large expense, Whiteman said. The emergency medical service most recently developed a budget that would cut services and still draw down its own cash reserve.

If spending stays the same, EMS would need a subsidy from the county's general fund in coming years, and officials still are considering changes to the ambulance budget for the coming year.

"It's not sustainable for the following year," Whiteman said.

Fund drawn down

Another concern is that the county's capital revolving fund is being drawn down this year so much it might need an infusion next year, Whiteman said. The capital revolving fund is a large pool of money built up over about 20 years. The county borrows from it every year to buy

expensive equipment and vehicles, then pays back those purchases over many years to provide cash for future purchases.

This year, the county plans to borrow from the capital revolving fund to pay for part of the Riverton justice center project, leaving about $250,000 in that account.

A typical year, however, sees the county spend close to $1 million from the capital revolving fund.

"It we need a motor grader or a big piece of equipment next year ...we're going to need to tap into that ($1.3) million dollar reserve from this year," Whiteman said.

Pay increase

Another large difference from last year in the budget tentatively approved June 24 was a $680,000 raise for county employees. The wage increase includes an across-the-board 2 percent cost of living increase and an additional 2 percent bump to department heads' salary budgets that they can apportion at their discretion.

Commissioners over the last year heard from various departments that their employees were paid less than their counterparts at other organizations or deserved a raise based on longevity in the job or merit. The county board hopes the second 2 percent would help address those issues.

The final large change commissioners made to the budget June 24 was reducing the size of a transfer from the road construction fund to Transportation Department's regular budget. Last year, commissioners moved $500,000 from the road construction fund to pay for road maintenance.

1 percent tax funds

Funds for the road construction fund come from fuels taxes and coal severance taxes but not from the optional 1 percent sales tax approved by voters in 2012. The road construction fund pays for construction and upkeep of roads and bridges.

Some citizens criticized the move last year saying the commission was using funds from the 1 percent tax for infrastructure projects, allowing the county board to use the road construction fund to pad the general fund.

Commissioners June 24 decided to include a transfer of $250,000 rather than $500,000 from the road construction fund to the Transportation budget for infrastructure maintenance in the budget for the coming fiscal year.

Transportation superintendent Dave Pendleton June 3 asked commissioners to reduce that transfer to $200,000.