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County OKs new budget

Jul 8, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Plan leaves $640,000 surplus

Fremont County Commission-ers gave final approval Tuesday to a $40 million budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.

The commission increases general fund spending by about $700,000, added a subsidy to the ambulance department, and still ended with a roughly $640,000 surplus to add to the county's cash reserve.

The budget counts on levying the full 12 mills and receiving $10.9 million from property taxes, up about $200,000 from last year. Commissioners officially decide on property tax rates at a later meeting.

Included in the approved budget are about $620,000 total in wage increases amounting to about a 4 percent overall rise in salary expenditures. Pay for county employees had been stagnant for several years before seeing a small increase last year.

A $165,000 subsidy from the general fund for Fremont County Emergency Medical Services is to cover the cost of a full, 24-7 ambulance crew in Dubois, rather than one full-time first responder. EMS also expects to bring in $2.2 million in revenue from charges to users and expend nearly all of its cash reserve.

"To not have a full ambulance crew up there would put many lives in jeopardy," Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman said during a July 7 public hearing on the budget.

About eight members of the public and 15 county officials attended the hearing on July 7.

In June, commissioners asked EMS to present a budget that would not use any general fund money. EMS director Joe Zillmer presented a plan calling for a 19 percent reduction in staff that would see Dubois service drop from a full-time crew to one full-time first responder and Lander's service go from two 24-7 crews to one full time crew with one working one-third of the week.

"Thank you for seeing that (Zillmer) needs the time to really work this thing through," Blakeman said.

911 surcharge

Commissioners also approved an increase to the surcharge on phone lines to pay for 911 dispatch center equipment. The rate will rise from 50 cents a month per line to 75 cents and will affect mobile phones and land lines in Fremont County. The change will not impact Riverton, which has its own dispatch center.

The hike amounts to $3 per year per line. Commissioners Larry Allen, Travis Becker, Stephanie Kessler and Keja Whiteman voted for it.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson voted against it.

"That's less than a bag of Doritos for a whole year," Kessler said. "I think it's a small cost that will help us pay for this equipment."

Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger spoke against raising the surcharge at the public hearing the evening before.

"I think the long-term needs of this fund haven't been totally looked at other than by the sheriff," he said. "I just think we need a little more work before we start raising the tax."

Sheriff Skip Hornecker explained his request for a higher charge during the same public hearing.

"(If) we stay at 50 cents folks, we're going to be looking for around $850,000 within four years," he said, referring to expected equipment costs "This increased surcharge provides a way around that."

During the commission's regular meeting on July 8, Hornecker said Riverton residents already pay 75 cents per line per month for that city's 911 service.

Digitize

During the July 7 meeting, the county board granted requests from two departments working to digitize county records. The Fremont County Clerk's office has paid a contractor for several years to digitize the records.

Commissioners had tentatively authorized $10,000 for a contractor to continue that work in the upcoming year. Clerk Julie Freese on July 8 asked for an increase to either get the work finished faster or complete it this year.

The county board decided to pay for the project to be finished this year for an additional $135,000.

The Clerk of District Court's office was similarly going to spend $15,000 to start digitizing court records this year. District Court Clerk Kristi Green asked for $35,000 to finish her project this year, and commissioners approved that amount.

Commissioners Larry Allen, Travis Becker and Doug Thompson voted for both pieces of the spending. Commissioners Stephanie Kessler and Keja Whiteman supported a previous motion to add $35,000 for the court clerk project and $20,000 for the county clerk project.

At the July 7 meeting, the only public comments were on the 911 surcharge and ambulance service in Dubois.

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Fremont County Commission