County's general fund forecast shows $301,000 dip

Mar 6, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

A report about Fremont County government's general fund revenue for the upcoming fiscal year shows an anticipated $301,000 decrease, further raising budget concerns among the commission.

Commissioners received a report Feb. 28 from Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger stating the general fund revenue is dropping to $22.2 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Contributing to the decrease are a $383,000 drop in the federal payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) and state funding sources falling $119,000, according to Harnsberger's report.

But he told commissioners that property taxes are showing a $316,000 increase for the upcoming year. The rise comes as the county's total assessed valuation is increasing about $32 million in the new fiscal year.

Revenues rose $884,000 above projections in the current year because of PILT increasing $328,000, Wyoming sales and use taxes rising $400,000 and state assistance jumping $184,000.

5 percent cut?

The extra money helped with closing the gap on this year's budget deficit of about $1 million, but concerns continue among commissioners as they discuss the shape of the upcoming budget.

Already commissioners are ready to ask department managers and other elected officials to prepare budget requests that anticipate a 5 percent cut in addition to static spending levels.

"Everybody in their personal lives, personal business, has to look at possible reductions," commissioner Travis Becker said, noting opposition by some managers to potential cuts.

"It seems like people are getting upset about it," Becker said. "I don't see why we can't have them look at it. It doesn't mean it will happen."

Cutting the general fund budget by 5 percent would close the roughly $1 million spending deficit in the budget.

"I think 5 percent to me is very doable," Becker said. "In some instances it probably isn't."

Commissioner Keja Whiteman said she wants to consider different budget proposals from each manager that take into account a 5 percent cut or even an increase in extreme cases.

"That would be the easiest for me," Whiteman said. "That would be a way for us to weigh the options and see what would be the impact of a 5 percent cut."

Good practice

Commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson said the reduction request would be an important exercise for managers.

"I think it's really good for everyone in government to look around in your program" and consider spending levels, he said. "I don't see anything wrong with asking them about the 5 percent,."

Other concerns for the upcoming year's budget include an anticipated 15 percent increase in health insurance costs, which could amount to around $800,000.

"I guess I'm kind of struggling with just melding in the old numbers," Hickerson said about using the previous year's budget figures to shape the new spending plan. "I just don't see how we can continue doing that."

The 5 percent reduction request is part of Hickerson's thinking.

"It doesn't mean we're going to implement it," he said. "I think each department still deserves a hearing on their budget."

"The other side of that is, I think it's our responsibility to figure out what priority we give to things," Hickerson said, saying a reduction in road repairs could be a potential consequence of increasing salaries. "Traditionally that's not good policy either."

Reserve amount

The discussion on the upcoming budget also included questions about what the county should maintain as a cash reserve, which is built with $7.5 million raised from sale of old hospital properties.

"The purpose of the cash reserve is to help carry us over in the interim when we don't have revenues coming in," Harnsberger said.

The money could operate the county government's roughly $22 million budget for about four months, he said.

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese noted the importance of having extra money in reserve.

"We've been trying to look ahead a couple of years," Freese said. "I don't think there's anything wrong with padding it up when you're going to take a hit in the next couple of years."

Recent general fund budgets have used the cash reserve account to supplement revenue shortfalls.

"We're looking at, we have been looking at, no personnel increases, no pay increases, health insurance is on the rise," Freese said. "I'm going to tell you next year you're going to dip into it again."

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