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Riverton, Lander among state's smallest spenders per city resident

Feb 24, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The Wyoming Department of Audit recently released a report showing Riverton had a lean budget last fiscal year compared to other Wyoming municipalities with more than 4,000 residents.

It was based on the period July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012.

The report separates expenditures into those for enterprise fund, which covers basic services such as electric, garbage and water service, and everything else, like police, fire, administration and parks.

Municipal expenses on utilities often do not make for fair comparisons, because private companies or counties run those services in some locales.

Riverton's spending on other expenses was $1,183 per resident, putting it third-lowest among the 18 Wyoming towns and cities studied. Riverton's expenditures were only 75 percent of the average for that same statistic, which was $1,578.

Lander spends least

Lander had the lowest costs at $872 per resident. Jackson had the highest at $2,833.

"I look at it as a positive; we get a lot of bang for our buck," Riverton city administrator Steve Weaver said. "On the other hand, we might not provide as many services as other cities, especially as far as recreation" is concerned.

Riverton, at $496,056, spent the third least in total on parks, recreation and museums. Only Douglas and Worland had a lower number, and Lander's was higher at $608,811. These totals do not include costs of any new facilities.

Low rec expenses

Per resident, Riverton's parks, recreation and museums programs cost the least among similarly sized cities.

Riverton's expenditures in those areas were $46 for each resident, Lander's was $81, Douglas's $99, Jackson's $102, Torrington's $123, Rawlins's $195, Powell's $217 and Cody's $301.

"I would guess they either have more parks or more multi-use recreation facilities or an aquatic center," Weaver said about cities that spend more on recreation.

He explained Fremont County School District 25 runs Riverton's aquatic center, and the city contracts with Central Wyoming College to run the local recreation program.

District 25's Recreation Board also funds recreation programs in Riverton.

Its police department made up a large portion of Riverton's budget at roughly $3 million. Per person, Riverton spent $278 on police last fiscal year, putting it in the middle for similarly sized cities.

Torrington paid $168 for every resident, Rawlins $193, Lander $242, Cody $270, Douglas $283, Powell $299 and Jackson $369.

Weaver also said some cities near large mineral developments can spend more because they raise more in taxes.

Riverton Regional Airport was another large item in the Riverton budget at $731,567. Lander spent just $27,871 on its airport. Riverton Regional is a commercial airport served by Great Lakes Airlines, while Hunt Field in Lander is a general aviation airport only.

Weaver said Riverton Regional must follow stricter Federal Aviation Administration guidelines and has more staff in order to accommodate the demands of commercial air service.

"Really, the Riverton airport serves the whole county," he added. "Probably more people outside Riverton use it than within."

Studies have also shown the transportation hub brings in $5 million in business to the area, Weaver said, and the county contributes about $100,000 to the airport as well.

Overall, Weaver thought the report gave a positive message about Riverton's government, but also pointed out its limits.

"My take is we're a pretty lean organization compared to other cities across the state," he said, but later added "(The expenditures per resident) is really the amount of services you're going to provide."

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