by nathan oster
The Greybull Town Council approved its budget for the new fiscal year on third and final reading Monday night, foregoing any major changes but leaving open the possibility of not following through with a couple of the planned expenditures, including the purchase of five new vehicles for the police department.
The council had held work sessions to set priorities and the budget had been given first and second readings prior to Monday night. Throughout the process, the council put much of its attention on three or four issues: the new police vehicles, spending for economic development and the dog park.
The new police vehicles were the primary source of debate again Monday night.
The council ultimately agreed to approve the budget as presented, but Councilmen Clay Collingwood and Marvin Hunt suggested that they might not be in favor of following through with the proposed purchase of five new vehicles, all at one time.
With the current fleet of Dodge Chargers getting up in years — and with the town having spent nearly $20,000 to maintain them this fiscal year — Police Chief Bill Brenner had brought forth a proposal to replace them with five new SUVs.
With the council’s support, Administrator Paul Thur developed a financing plan in which the town would take possession of all five of the vehicles sometime after July 1, 2015, and then pay for them in a lease-to-own agreement covering five years and with individual payments of $37,500. With new vehicles on the way, the council didn’t set aside money for major maintenance on them.
While the money was kept in the budget, Councilman Marvin Hunt said he’s still not convinced all five are needed at once, nor that all-wheel-drive SUVs are the way to go. The town currently has Dodge Chargers.
Brenner has said throughout the budgeting process that SUVs would be a better fit for officers, who have a hard time getting around in the winter in their Chargers due to their low clearance and the amount of snow and ice on the streets.
Mayor Myles Foley said he’s concerned about the maintenance cost of the Chargers and that if the town’s going to trade them in, the time to do it is now, when they still have some value.
Councilman Clay Collingwood expressed concern about saddling future councils with the debt obligations, adding, “Most people don’t replenish their whole fleet at once; they do it in stages, as their budgets allow.”
Councilman Scott Mattis asked Brenner if the town could get by with a couple of the Chargers for two to three more years. Brenner noted that the new budget contains no money for maintenance costs, and that because they are emergency vehicles, “whatever maintenance they need, they get.”
Brenner admitted that the Chargers weren’t the best fit for the department.
In hindsight, the versatility of SUVs would have made more sense.
“If I had it to do over again, I would have asked for SUVs, but at the time, Chargers were the hot thing in policing, they were the most efficient cars to buy. But we found that what we were hearing about them didn’t hold true in Wyoming.”
Sgt. Greg Hess, who researched the vehicle purchase, said he spoke with officials with multiple law enforcement agencies. The consensus, he said, is that the SUVs that are specially made for law enforcement are holding up better than cars. Whatever extra money is required for gas, it’s offset by lower maintenance costs, he said.
Councilmen Hunt and Collingwood stated that they had no problem leaving the money in the budget, but that they wanted more discussion on the number and type of vehicles purchased.
Shifting to the dog park, the council received an update on what the proposed improvements would cost: $4,000 for parts to run a town water line, $6,000 for sprinklers, approximately $12,700 for a gazebo with a concrete base and $2,000, ballpark, for seeding.
Council members agreed that $12,700 seemed steep for a gazebo with a concrete pad and that a second estimate should be pursued. In the end, the council agreed to put $10,000 in the budget for dog park improvements. The plan is to install the water line and see how much can be done with what’s left over.
The budget also includes funding for $15,000 in ballfield/playground improvements as well as $30,000 for a bucket truck/man lift. As part of the levee recertification process, the town is budgeting $400,000 for levee maintenance.
A casualty of the new budget is Grow Big Horn County. Last year the town contributed $15,000 to the organization. This year, the council agreed to cut all funding. Two beneficiaries of that decision will be the Greybull Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greybull Economic Development Committee, both of which are projected to receive $20,000 from the town, considerably more than they got this year.
The budget also earmarks $2,000 for Holidazzle, the Days of ’49 and Fourth of July fireworks.