Wyoming municipalities on the 'front line' of budget cuts

Staff members of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities attended the recent Joint Appropriations Committee meetings in Cheyenne to hear directly about the state’s budget concerns, while understanding first-hand the budget challenges of the cities and towns across the cowboy state. “Governor Mead began the two day JAC meetings by outlining his cut-backs to state agencies beyond what the state legislature approved in their budget session last winter,” stated Deputy Director, Laurie Heath. “The Governor made it very clear that his 8% cuts may have to go deeper as the state is facing a $250 million to $500 million shortfall in the general fund in the next biennium.” Cities and towns are the “front line” of public service in the state and are already experiencing significant reductions in revenues because they are primarily funded by sales tax. “Our sales tax receipts year-to-date are 53% down from last year,” said Mayor Bruce Jones of Douglas. “This makes decisions very hard as we build our budget for the coming year.” While municipalities rely on sales tax, they also share with the state on gas tax, federal mineral royalties, severance tax, and receive direct distributions from the state. As the state’s revenues decline, cities and towns receive less from that source as well. “It’s a double whammy,” said WAM Executive Director, Shelley Simonton. “Local receipts are down, and the funding from the state is down 43% over the last biennium, and will likely be less in the coming years. “Now is a time for being creative and figuring out ways we can best manage our projects. It is about looking at the picture in different ways and discovering how to get the job done,” said Mayor Twila Blakeman of Dubois. Mayor Blakeman was part of a leadership panel who shared budget cut-back strategies to the WAM membership at their recent Annual Convention. Green River City Administrator, Reed Clevenger echoed Mayor Blakeman’s comments, stating, “We haven’t seen these numbers since 2003, and we’re asking ourselves what did we look like back then, and what services were we providing?” He went on to say, “We started budgeting at a lower level and started spending at a lower level; and asking ourselves how can we preserve services and how can we preserve people’s jobs?” An example of Green River’s pro-active approach is in their Parks Department, by reducing their summer positions by 50% and changing mowing and watering schedules. “Communities must determine which core services they are going to provide,” shared Gillette City Administrator Carter Napier. “Evaluating how your budget accommodates or even over accommodates the services you plan to deliver is important. It’s imperative to examine each line item that contributes to those services and match the budget to the performance measurements and service expectations you have committed to.” Year-to-date Gillette’s sale tax receipts are down 31%. As the advocate for the interests of cities and towns in Wyoming, WAM has been attending legislative and executive branch meetings regularly regarding Wyoming’s budget concerns. WAM has been proactive in providing education and information to the 99 incorporated municipalities in the state, from the WAM Annual Convention that yielded 300 participants from around the state, to forming an Ad Hoc Revenue Committee. “The education and communication components of our work cannot be understated at this time,” said Director Simonton. “Of the 99 municipalities in Wyoming, almost half are 500 or less in population. Our communities need support in all forms right now.” #shortgo #buckrail #reboot #county10 #springcity #dally #oilcity #county17 #news