Town, school officials bracing for cuts

by nathan oster

Local officials have been keeping a close eye on the happenings in Cheyenne, where lawmakers are nearing the end of a 20-day session in which their primary task was to pass a budget for the next two years.

With the downturn in the energy industry, both Paul Thur, the town’s administrator/finance director, and Barry Bryant, Big Horn County School District No. 3 superintendent of schools, knew it wasn’t a matter of whether there would be cuts in state funding.

The question was, how deep would they be.

“We won’t know the specifics until all the dust settles, but we do know that County Consensus money is going away,” said Thur, when asked about how the town will be impacted. “This will be a loss of about $100,000 to $130,000 per year.”

Capital improvements and utilities funds will feel the pinch.

“County Consensus goes to projects and is typically never applied to the General Fund,” said Thur. “So this cut will not affect the General Fund.”

On the positive side, the town may receive more in Direct Distribution, which does go into the General Fund. “That amount appears to be on track to be the same as the current biennium, but the House needs to concur with what the Senate just passed,” said Thur. “Actually our Direct Distribution will increase from $251,000 to $272,000 for each of the next two years.”

It is unknown what mineral royalties, severance taxes, and sales taxes will look like for the town.

“In a nutshell, our General Fund looks fairly stable over the next two years, but in the next two years we will lose County Consensus, which is used for small projects and project matching.”

The school district, meanwhile, could be facing a double-whammy.

Bryant said the district’s enrollment has dropped — down 24 from last year — and that the decline, in itself, will result in a reduction in state funding. Then there’s the impact of the current budget bill that was sent to the governor for his approval earlier this week.

“Based on the conference committee, K-12 education in Wyoming will be cut 1 percent in 2016-17 and 1.4 percent in 2017-18 for a statewide cut totaling $36 million,” said Bryant.”

“The estimate cuts in Greybull are approximately $100,000 for 2016-17 and $140,000 for 2017-18, plus the loss from enrollment.”

School officials are also watching HB 0019, which would change how the state tests its students starting in 2017-18. Currently students in grades three through eight and juniors in high school are tested.

The bill would require students in grades three through 10 to take a state assessment, students in grade 11 to tae a college ready test and students in grade 12 to take a career ready test.