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Commissioners finalize budget for fiscal year 2014
During the public hearing Monday on the county's proposed budget, Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett asked commissioners to reinstate travel funding for his office. Photo by Eric Blom

Commissioners finalize budget for fiscal year 2014

Jul 12, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The county made few changes after a public hearing Monday.

Fremont County commissioners made few changes to their proposed budget after hearing comments from a handful of residents and public officials Monday. The next day, commissioners finalized the budget for fiscal year 2014, which runs July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014.

Optional sales tax

Commissioners had released their proposed budget for the general fund and library, museums, recreation, and fair boards June 25.

Shoshoni resident Keith Janson at the Monday public hearing criticized the commission's proposal to move $400,000 from the road construction fund to the transportation department's budget to pay for road maintenance. The move was in addition to a similar $100,000 transfer transportation supervisor Dave Pendleton had recommended.

Officials said the transfer did not affect funds from the optional 1 percent sales tax voters approved in November, which go into a separate account. Janson drew a connection between the funds, however, arguing that if the county can transfer money out of other roads funds it did not really need to raise all the money for roads that it will with the sales tax.

"Evidently we didn't need the 1 percent (sales tax), or all of it," Keith Janson said. "The $500,000, it was already in the road fund, and you transferred it into the general fund -- you didn't need it."

Commissioners saw the situation differently.

"If there is money in accounts that's not being spent it goes back into the general fund," commission Chairman Doug Thompson said in an interview. "Instead of putting it into one of these projects that might not happen for years, we put it into maintenance."

The commission left the transfer in place in its final budget. County Clerk Julie Freese said that despite the $500,000 total transfer, commissioners did not change the amount the road construction fund is budgeted to spend on projects this year. The move will cause the road construction fund to have a lower balance at the end of the year.

Detox

A $15,000 reduction in funding to the Fremont County Alcohol Crisis Center was the next topic at the public hearing.

The Crisis Center had asked for $95,000 from the county general fund -- the same amount it received the year before -- but commissioners allocated $80,000 this year instead. In the meantime, the center merged with Volunteers of America.

"We moved into the merger in good faith that their funding was strong going into this year," said Heath Steel, vice president of Volunteers of America Northern Rockies. "We went in very optimistic that at a minimum the $95,000 they asked for would be in place."

His organization hoped the county would provide an additional $12,500 to match similar donations from the City of Riverton and Wind River Casino, Steel said. Volunteers of America already incurred costs of hiring and training staff related to the acquisition of the FCACC.

On Tuesday, the county board voted to leave the donation to the crisis center at $80,000.

Attorney

The last request at the public hearing came from County Attorney Michael Bennett. He asked that $5,000 cut from his travel budget be reinstated. Bennett said the funds would allow his deputy attorneys to attend educational conferences.

"These younger attorneys do need this training," he said.

Commissioner Travis Becker pointed out the Attorney's Office spent $4,900 on average for travel over the last three years.

"Prior to my administration we had a number of attorneys in the office with many years of experience," Bennett said. "We don't have that now."

The next day, the Commission decided not to put the $5,000 back in the Attorney's Office budget.

Other requests

Lander city officials also attended the public hearing to talk about rebuilding their community center.

"What we need is a little extra money," Lander mayor Mick Wolfe said. "It is not a city community center; it is a county community center."

Lander's community resource coordinator Gary Michaud said the city would like the county board to double its contribution to the community center, to $500,000. The county had planned to contribute $250,000 split over two years, but Michaud said the city would like $166,000 every year for three years.

The next day, commissioners said the city's request came under a funding system called the Capital Improvement Projects Long-term, which was not part of the general fund budget they were finishing. They said they would discuss Lander's request at a later date.

Cade Maestas and three other county recreation board members at the public hearing asked commissioners to approve a $250,000 loan to improve and maintain the park and recreation site at Green Mountain near Jeffrey City.

Commissioners had rejected the loan request at a June meeting, but Maestas said the loan wouldn't affect the county's general fund.

"You could fund a separate fund through the (cash) reserves, that we would have access to and repay through our levy," he said.

The recreation board receives property dollars directly based on an amount the commission sets.

"I think the plan is to borrow the money and then pay it off out of their allotment," Thompson said.

Commissioners on July 9 decided to discuss the proposed loan at a later meeting because it would not affect the general fund.

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Fremont County Commission