Not so bad

Jul 15, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

Biggest fears for county budget planners didn't pan out this year

Fremont County's budget planners got two pieces of good news as they finalized the county's 2013 fiscal year budget. The worry now is that neither happy circumstance will repeat itself.

First, our county saw its assessed valuation top the $1 billion mark again, confounding most predictions. We're one of the big boys, so to speak, and our revenues will reflect it thanks to high oil output and prices that counteracted the effects of falling natural gas prices that had the number crunchers doubting a return to the magical "b word."

Second, the county learned that its biggest funding fear won't materialize, at least not this year. County commissioners were deeply concerned that more than $1 million in federal money through a long-standing program called payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT, would be allocated to Wyoming after all, and passed on to county governments.

Most of Wyoming is comprised of land owned by the federal government and administered through the Bureau of Land Management. All those millions of acres aren't subject to Wyoming property taxes and, consequently, don't contribute to the assessed valuation of the counties.

There is a lot of BLM land in Fremont County, but it does us no good when it comes time to calculate the county's tax base. So, the federal government for many years has compensated the state through PILT -- money which would contribute to state revenues if only the state or private landowners controlled it.

As federal programs go, this is a popular one even in Wyoming, where citizens are encouraged to despise the federal government. That's easier to do in principle when a hot-headed TV commentator is telling us to do it, but it's a bit harder to swallow when it means 5 percent to 10 percent of our county's budget might go begging because the feds suddenly decide PILT needs to be cut back in the name of federal deficit reduction.

The feds shouldn't have it both ways. They shouldn't prevent Wyoming from collecting property taxes on lands within its borders while also denying fair compensation for that lost revenue.

That's how federal authorities saw it too, and a good chunk of PILT money is coming Fremont County's way after all.

The county is to be commended as well for its decision to provide ongoing assistance to important non-county entities such as our sole commercial airport and smaller social service organizations that benefit mightily from a taste of county cash in a good revenue year.

Fremont County's budget process turned out to be much more relaxed that many were expecting. Having some well-deserved wealth will do that. Now if we could only get the high natural gas value and the high oil value in the same assessment. Oh, well. Wait'll next year.

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