Revenue declines force county to cut

by karla pomeroy

Big Horn County commissioners began meeting with department heads last week to discuss the budget.

The county can levy 12 mills each year for operation and requests have come in at nearly $20 million which would require the county to levy 16.5 mills. A portion of the $20 million do not require levy mills and are not factored in the portion that must be cut — enterprise funds of $571,000 and $1.2 million for the state-county road fund.

Initially the commissioners requested each department to cut 6.5 percent from the current budget.

Big Horn County Treasurer Becky Lindsey said they are budgeting the same property taxes as the current budget year with valuation figures not in yet. However, she said two main sources of revenues have been cut severely. The county’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) is being budgeted at $300,000 for the coming year and the county is expected to receive $900,000 in the current year. Lindsey said the payment is not due until June, however.

She said the estimated figures come from the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association Revenue Estimating Manual.

Another revenue loss comes from the forest reserve/Secure Rural Schools. 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.

Lindsey said she also estimates sales tax on the low side, estimating $700,000 for the coming year. She said the county, for the 4 percent sales tax has received $756,000 to date for the current year. For the one-cent optional sales tax she is budgeting $300,000 with the county already taking in $412,000 this year and $100,000 for the one-cent optional use tax with the county taking in $122,000 to date this year.

Department budgets

On Friday, the commissioners began meeting with department heads and continuing on Tuesday. Big Horn County Public Health Nurse Manager Kimberly Cowan began her meeting asking about step raises, noting that an employee has reached the five-year step.

The commissioners said since step raises were allowed during the current fiscal year, they will be allowed through the end of the fiscal year. They noted they likely won’t be allowed under the new budget.

Commissioner John Hyde asked why benefits are higher than salaries in some departments? Clerk Lori Smallwood said departments were asked to budget a 15 percent increase in health insurance. It was also noted that depending on the department, salaries can vary, and some lower paid employees can have the most expensive insurance plans thus benefits can be higher than salaries.

Grant added that several budgets had benefits that were figured too low and so there will be large increases in benefits from the current budget to the new budget.

Ewen said the county may have to look at increasing employees’ contribution to health insurance in order to balance the budget.

The Public Health budget request is at $291,409.30, $30,000 above the current budget and $48,000 more than the actual 2011-2012 budget. The budget includes $117,200 for the four nurses. The county shares the cost with the state with the county paying 35 percent.

Grant said, “Looks to me like to get your budget in line you’re going to have to do a reduction in force.”

Cowan said, “This will reduce services to the county.” She said she has considered cutting hours.

The commissioners also looked at the revenues with Cowan noting grants help pay for some of the expenses and they do make some revenue on the vaccines but the grants cannot be used for salaries and benefits.

Cowan said the grants are all pass-through. She said it pays for training, materials and supplies, pays for emergency preparedness employee salary and benefits,

“Without public health the community’s at risk,” Cowan said. “Look at Oklahoma, public health is keeping disease down.”

Hyde said, “It’s a great service but not a lot of income for it.”

Cowan said the state is pushing for a fee for service to be in place by July 1 that should help offset the expenses.

Ewen said, “We’re not considering not having public health, just funding it at a lesser level. It looks like that would be one nurse.” He added, “You’re not the only department in this position.”

Cowan said rather than cut a nurse, she may consider cutting a secretarial position. She emphasized, however, that the north office is currently open despite rumors to the contrary and she would like to maintain that service.

Assessor

Big Horn County Assessor Gina Anderson said she has reduced her staff one position. The assessor’s budget request is at $364,429, down from $409,781 for the current year.

She said she had two employees who left on maternity leave, neither whom plan to return. She has only filled one position.

She said the budget is about 11 percent less.

“The primary reason for the decrease is we are able to operate with less personnel due to the new GIS Mapserver, which has significantly decreased the phone and counter activity,” Anderson wrote in her budget letter to the commissioners.

Library

Acting Library Director Donna Capellen and two board members came to speak about their budget.

Grant said, “I’ll make the same speech I’ve made to everyone. This is a poor budget year and we’ve asked everyone to cut their current budgets by 6.5 percent.”

Ewen said, “We’ve also asked departments not to consider step raises or cost-of-living raises.

Capellen said, “It’s a disappointment that we have to cut the budget and won’t even get the same level of funding as this year.” She added that they have not received a raise since 2011.

Ewen said, “We appreciate that. Some departments have already cut positions and others are looking at possibly having to make cuts.”

The current library budget was approved at $513,000. The proposed budget is at $522,773. The proposed budget includes cash reserve.

Capellen said the largest budget line item is salaries and increases.

In the letter to the commissioners in April, Capellen wrote that the proposed budget focuses on books and staffing.

She wrote, “A goal of the Library Board is to have two employees at each library at all times. To accomplish this we need to hire two new part-time employees. We would like to add one person to Lovell and one person to Greybull. With one more staff at Greybull we can add one more hour to the Greybull Library hours on Friday afternoon.

The proposed $522,773 budget does not include raises or the new employees.

The commissioners asked the library to cut 6.5 percent using the $513,000 starting figure of the current budget.

Land planning

Land Planner Joy Hill presented her budget, which was down from $208,050 in the current budget to $204,806 for the 2013-2014 budget.

“With the proposed fees I do anticipate an increase in revenue and hoping that will help offset some things as well,” Hill said. She said she has some preliminary suggestions for fees from the planning office that includes a few increases for the commissioners to review.

“I’m not down the full 6.5 percent and I’m here asking for help. I’ve tried to cut all the other lines. anything else but personnel.”

Hill agreed to cut some software licenses for $3,500, needing to cut a little more than $10,000 for the full 6.5 percent.