SUBLETTE COUNTY – Once the dust settled, the numbers for this year’s budget were a bit rosier for this 2017-2018 fiscal year (FY18) than had been previously thought amid dire financial predictions earlier in the previous fiscal year.
The Sublette County Board of Commissioners held its mandatory budget hearing Monday night before passing the official FY18 budget at its regular meeting Tuesday morning, which officially started July 1.
Last year saw about a 45-percent drop in tax mill valuation and this year, many anticipated another 50-percent drop.
“We ended up only with a 14-percent (reduction),” reported county clerk Mary Lankford on Monday night, with a mill levy worth $1.95 million this year – down from $2.3 last year – and the county collecting a full 12 mills.
County officials are hoping that could be the end of the downturn.
“All indications are we’ve reached the bottom of the pendulum swing and perhaps we’ll start moving up a little bit – if not, at least staying the same,” board chair Andy Nelson said Monday.
With eleven drill rigs currently out in the gas field – up from just a handful this time last year, officials are optimistic that energy development will once again help buoy the local economy, which has flagged in recent years in light of the downturn in natural gas prices.
“You see semi-load after semi-load of (drill) pipe coming up the road,” commissioner Joel Bousman said.
For the FY18, the county is looking at a total general fund budget of $210,699,626, and when combined with the six other budget required entities – including the fairgrounds, airports, libraries, museums, recreation and fire – the total comes to $223,110,418.
The county, itself, has an approved operating budget of $41.78 million, up about $600,000 over last year’s $41.25 million. In addition, the county has $170 million in reserves, between its $10 million in cash reserves, $10.8 million in equipment reserves and $149.3 million in depreciation reserves.
Despite the economic downturn, these reserve levels had officials feeling good about the county’s position.
“If money stopped coming in today, we can function for about five years,” Nelson said, lauding the efforts of present and past commissioners for having the foresight to sock money away when times were good.
In fact, this year already saw an increase in the county’s revenue over last year.
“Cash and revenue is up $2.4 million from last year, which is good,” Lankford said.
According to Lankford, a few of the “significant increases in our budget this year” include a handful of departments, including the commissioners, Road and Bridge (R&B), Courthouse and Maintenance Department, Detention, Waste Management and the Ice Arena.
The board of commissioners, which went from three to five in January, saw a 14-percent increase from $268,200 to $306,100.
Road and Bridge saw a 9.3-percent increase to its budget from $11.8 million to $12.9 million, with $2.4 million of that earmarked for equipment and $5 million for projects.
In light of the fact that R&B’s budget constitutes 31 percent of the county’s operating budget, officials emphasized the separate internal accounts, not all of which have been approved.
“Road and Bridge has the lion’s share of the budget, but that also includes equipment as well as projects we have not necessarily approved,” said commissioner Dr. David Burnett. “I think it’s important for people to realize that because we did spend a great deal of time with that discussion.”
The commissioners decided to “go ahead and fund the Road and Bridge budget but that doesn’t mean we’re going to be buying those pieces of equipment,” Nelson said in reply to a resident’s question about R&B equipment Monday night. “The money is in the budget but it’s not earmarked to be spent.”
The R&B department is also set to have a staffing increase.
“We’ve increased our (R&B) staff from 19 to 24 full-time equivalents (FTEs),” Lankford reported, with two of those FTEs established for part-time workers who won’t receive benefits.
Courthouse and Maintenance saw a nominal 2-percent increase to $2.76 million, up from $2.71 million, largely due to “some maintenance projects” that are in the works.
Detention saw an increase of 7 percent, going from $2.16 million up to $2.3 million, in light of some heavy-duty jail doors that need replaced.
But that increase was compensated by a $230,000 decrease in the Law Enforcement budget, which brings the five line items that come under the umbrella of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office – including Detention, Communication, Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, and Emergency Management – equal to last year at $8 million overall.
Waste Management saw a 24-percent increase from $829,145 to $1.03 million, largely due to the county’s contract with Rio Verde Engineering to assist with the county’s landfill and the associated permitting process with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
The Sublette County Ice Arena saw a 20-percent increase, from $285,589 up to $341,367, which came on the heels of the commissioners agreeing to hire a full-time manager for the facility.
Overall, the county’s general fund requirements saw an increase of $1.1 million over last year. The county’s “other general accounts,” however – including the nonprofits, the insurance and retirement, the senior centers, etc. – saw a drop of $570,000, going from $10.71 million down to $10.14 million, with $430,000 of that in last year’s budget devoted to two now-completed remodels. The organizations taking the biggest hits in the FY18 budget include the Visitor Center, the senior centers, SAFV, 4-H After-School program and the preschools. The county’s scholarship program also took a drop, as students graduate and the commissioners look to shrink the program.
Overall, the county was able to fund its budget largely through tax revenue and other income, but it did have to dip into its $17-million “budget reserve account” this year for the first time – to the tune of $2.5 million.
“We started that in 2015 to be able to deal with shortfalls,” Lankford said. “We were able to not have to dip last year but we dipped a little bit this year.”
“When the money’s flowing, you never think it’s going to dry up,” Nelson said, adding that he’s getting “to the twilight of my service here and we’ve dipped into the budget reserve account, so I’m glad we got it started.”