News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Lawmaker says money for municipalities is a priority
Jul 7, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, told Riverton city leaders that he'll push for infrastructure funding for cities and towns next winter.
"We're worried about infrastructure, we're worried about a lot of water lines, sewer lines that are 50, 60, 70 years (old) and how are we going to deal with that," he told the Riverton City Council on Tuesday.
He added that he's discussed the issue with Gov. Matt Mead and members of the Joint Appropriations Committee, of which he is chairman.
He expressed interest in allocating more money to municipalities, which has been a stated priority of the governor's as well.
"The best way we can spend money is to listen to the people," Bebout said.
He also said he'd like to see $10 million set aside for the courthouses needed in the state and more specifically about $2-3 million for Fremont County. Riverton recently was turned down for justice center funding by the State Loan and Investment Board
"It's hard for a county to come up with all that money," he said. "It's a serious problem, so that's one of the things we're working on, to try to help in that particular situation."
As millions from the biennial budget were sent to fund the state highways, Bebout said other issues emerge as the new fuel tax came into place -- such appropriating more money to highways or saving extra funds for future considerations.
"My opinion is to go in there and use it as one-time money and take care of infrastructure needs so we don't get caught short like we were the last time around," Bebout said.
Acquired state lands were the focus of Senate File 90, Bebout said, which he pushed for because it was important to look into the "highest investment use" in the lands from the Department of Corrections, Department of Health and Department of Family Services and to "maximize returns."
"I just want to applaud you for making that effort because that certainly has been a thorn in our side for awhile, and it just doesn't make sense to have a piece of property and not be able to be used," Mayor Ron Warpness said.
Bebout also reminded the council about House Bills 66 and 67 that dealt with the solid waste program and remediation at landfills and transfer stations. He said the bills set money aside to deal with those problems once a proper course of action has been determined.
Another topic of concern, Bebout said, is oil and gas drilling in Fremont County and Wyoming. He reported that Sublette County lost 35 percent of its revenue on sales tax due to a drilling downturn, while Converse County gained 25 percent revenue due to a growing rig count, activity in the area, and jobs available.
"You can point a finger right at the rig count, and when you look at the future revenues of the state, that's a big part of it," Bebout said, adding that it gets tricky when working with federal agencies and waiting for environmental reviews on drilling projects.
Bebout described the current budget cycle as it being "in pretty good shape."
"We're going to have some funds available to do things that are really important to our state, and that's when I get into city, towns and counties," Bebout said.
He said about $99 million was carried over from the previous budget and added that a drop in the price of natural gas changed the figures on some anticipated revenue. Changes in federal budgeting priorities led to an extra $62 million for the state.
With that and the $99 million, roughly $160 million was made available for the Legislature to work with.
"As we approached the supplemental budget session, we talked about how are we going to spend that money. We were really concerned on spending it on one-time expenses," Bebout said. "That is what we started with on the table."