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As revenue shrinks, county starts budget work

May 5, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Beginning Tuesday, county commissioners hold budget hearings through May and into June, with the final budget due July 7.

As it begins to set a budget, shrinking property tax revenue, expanding funds for roadwork, and requests for larger personnel budgets will likely guide the Fremont County Commission's decisions.

The board will hold budget hearings through May and into June and plans to finalize a budget July 7 for fiscal year 2014.

Fiscal years run July 1 to June 30 and are named by the calendar year in which they end.

After a freeze on hiring and raises last year, several department heads and elected officials already have stated they want larger personnel budgets. Those requests will run headlong into the county's changing funding scenario.

General fund revenue down

In March, Fremont County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger's office predicted general fund revenues will be about $22.2 million, a $870,000 drop from what was anticipated in the fiscal 2013 budget.

The general fund pays for most of the county's personnel, equipment and operating costs.

Income from property taxes which contribute about 35 percent of the county's income, will decrease about $900,000 for fiscal 2014, the Treasurer's Office forecast.

The drop largely comes from the county's assessed value lowering and estimated 6.5 percent to $951 million in fiscal 2014. Other revenue streams such as County Clerk fees and direct distribution from the state will increase.

Earmarked money increase

Revenues for construction, however, will rise dramatically.

The treasurer's office predicted the 1 percent tax will generate $4.2 million in fiscal 2014, all of which will go into a special revenue fund for infrastructure.

It also projected a raise in state fuels tax will bring the county $780,000 more this coming fiscal year, which will be split between the general fund and a special revenue fund for roads.

The massive new revenue from the 1 percent and raised fuels taxes will add to the projects budget. Those streams are earmarked for infrastructure projects and not for personnel or departmental operating costs.

In past years, the general fund has contributed money to roads projects.

Commissioners and Harnsberger at the March 11 county board meeting discussed the possibility of using less general fund money for infrastructure projects, freeing it up for use elsewhere.

Such a move might not be popular, however,

Transportation superintendent Dave Pendleton the next week said the optional 1 percent tax was advertised as a way to supplement the roads projects budget but not to supplant its other revenue streams.

"It was my understanding that the prior commission had stated (1 percent tax revenue) wasn't going to replace any transportation department budget but ... that we were going to do additional projects," he said. "If you want to garner public mistrust of the county, then you can go that route."

Schedule

On the schedule for May 6 are Child Development Services, Coroner's Office, Injury Prevention Resources, Planning Department, Clerk of District Court, Public Defender's Office, Building Maintenance Depart-ment, Fremont Counseling, Good Samaritan Center, Alliance against Domestic Violence and Lander Senior Center.

May 7's schedule includes District Court, Dubois Activities Association, Predatory Animal District, Library System, Women Infants and Children program and Foster Grandparents Program.

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