The Big Horn County commissioners approved an $11.7 million general fund budget at Tuesday’s budget hearing.
The general fund budget was $1.3 million less than the $13 million budget approved last year. In addition to the general fund budget is $3.7 million for the airports, $175,000 for the fair budget and $519,375 for the library budget. The county will levy the full 12 mills allowed by state statute to fund the general fund, airport, library and fair budgets.
During the public hearing, representatives of the sheriff’s office, public health, coroner’s office and district court clerk’s office were in attendance.
Court clerk concerns
District Court Clerk Dori Noyes said, “I know this is an extremely hard process with revenues being down.” She said under normal circumstances repairs to her office would have come out of the courthouse budget. She said she approached the commissioners about a carryover and was directed to move forward in the current budget.
Noyes said there are cracks in the walls, broken blinds, jury room tables taped together and broken equipment.
“You asked us all to take 6.5 percent off the budget; the majority are nowhere near 6.5 percent,” Noyes said. She said some budgets were decreased by more than 6.5 percent.
Some budgets show an increase in the budget proposed to be adopted, including, the clerk’s office, county attorney’s office, capital improvements and the courthouse.
Commissioner Keith Grant said the clerk of court budget shouldn’t need repairs that were paid out of the 2012-2013 budget so there’s room for additional cuts.
He said in previous years the county also underestimated revenues and this year revenues are so tight so there is no underestimation.
Noyes said she is concerned about the jury budget at $5,000. Chairman Jerry Ewen said the original budget was $30,000 and “we realize there’s no way to predict that. We cut that back to $5,000 with the understanding if there is a jury trial, without a doubt we’ll transfer funds.”
Noyes said the county attorney’s office has done remodeling twice and has $16,000 more than what was approved last year.
Ewen asked Noyes to direct her comments to her budget. She said she is concerned about the district court budget, which was cut by $38,000.
John Hyde said the commissioners looked at what was spent last year, minus the repair/remodel work.
In regard to the county attorney budget, Treasurer Becky Lindsey said the benefit line item was underfunded last year.
In a meeting with the commissioners, County Attorney Michelle Burns said her overall budget from the previous year was cut by $5,500 but then the benefit line item had to be adjusted properly.
“A great deal of the safety of our citizens and our communities lies in the work that this office and law enforcement do on a daily basis,” Burns said. “I have endeavored to cut every area I can and still do the job I was elected to do.”
Deputy Clerk of Court Deb LaBudda asked the commissioners to explain their rationale of allowing some departments to have increases and some not to have to cut as much others.
Gwen Nelson of the sheriff’s office said the search and rescue budget was cut in half from $108,000 to $55,000.
“It was a difficult process,” Ewen said. “There were positions that were eliminated. And next year is not going to be any better.”
The county assessor is not filling a vacancy, and the commissioners cut their part-time secretary/part-time clerk position. Lindsey said she has a vacancy that likely will not be filled. Road and bridge is also not filling a position.
Sheriff Ken Blackburn in an earlier meeting with the commissioners had announced he would be cutting a detention officer and a patrol officer.
In other personnel issues in the budget, the commissioners announced during a work session earlier in the day that no cost-of-living raises were included, nor any step raises. Ewen noted, however, that the county did not go to the employees to increase their Wyoming Retirement System contribution, which increased .5 percent. Cost to the county is $24,000 for the increase, Clerk Lori Smallwood said.
The county is also covering the increase in the health insurance premiums, Ewen said.
Outside agency funding took a hit in the tight budget. Both the north and south senior centers received $9,000 each. The county predator control board, which usually received $10,000, was allocated just $5,000.
Despite larger requests, each of the three chambers of commerce in the county (Basin, Greybull and Lovell) received $1,000.
Ewen said the budget includes $75,000 for infrastructure upgrades required for the new multi-purpose facility at the fairgrounds. It also includes funding to upgrade the lines in the courthouse so a new phone system can be purchased.
Some large cuts in the budget, he noted, were $38,000 from the engineer’s requested budget with some duties reassigned to the road and bridge foremen, and the removal of the civil attorney line item. Ewen said they will be cancelling the memorandum of understanding the county entered into with Scott McColloch to handle civil issues for the county.
The county was able to maintain their $2 million cash reserve.
As for revenue decreases, Ewen said, valuation, which increased last year, dropped by $5 million this year. Last year the valuation for the county saw a $30 million increase from $264 million to $294 million. This year it dropped to $289 million.
The county, which received $900,000 in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) last year, is estimating just $300,000 this year. Lindsey said another main loss of revenue comes from the forest reserve/Secure Rural Schools funding. In 2010 the county received $441,159 and similar amounts in 2011 and 2012. For the upcoming budget year, they are estimated to receive just $5,526 due to budget cuts from the federal sequestration.
Grant, the senior member on the commission, said, “This is the toughest budget I’ve faced in my 14 years and next year doesn’t look any better.”
by Karla Pomeroy