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Budget cuts bug Baker and Bebout

Oct 4, 2012 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Reductions could hurt pest control

With state departments preparing for 8 percent cuts this year, Riverton City Councilman Lars Baker's thoughts have turned toward mosquitoes.

Baker, who doubles as the Fremont County Weed and Pest supervisor, asked State Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) this week whether Wyoming's Emergency Insect Management Grant fund will be affected by the looming cuts.

The fund pays for mosquito mitigation and other pest control methods in Fremont County and throughout Wyoming.

"(Weed and Pest gets) a grant from the state, and we pass the money to local tribes and communities to run mosquito control programs," Baker said during the Riverton City Council meeting Oct. 2. "Losing that funding ... is going to result in a decrease in mosquito control in Fremont County provided by those entities."

According to published reports, Wyoming's Agriculture Department officials said last month that they may cut the grant program to achieve 8 percent budget reductions. But Bebout said budget conversations at the state level are ongoing.

"(Legislators) talked a lot about insects because of serious concerns like grasshoppers," Bebout said, recalling the hordes of bugs that have decimated local fields in the past. "We'll see where it all goes."

He asked Baker to maintain contact with the state as the budget cutting process continues.

"This is what it will be about," Bebout said. "We have revenue issues, and we'll prioritize. That's what we're elected to do. ... We reprioritize, and as we get this thing moving along we'll hear what the impact is."

Other issues

Bebout had approached the council to discuss issues relevant to Fremont County in preparation for the upcoming legislative session. He said the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee, which he co-chairs, has been working to close loopholes in contractor preference laws that require public entities to prioritize use of Wyoming-based businesses for projects.

"Some people come into the state and just put a tag out on a window, get an answering machine (and) say they're a Wyoming resident contractor when clearly they're not," Bebout said. "We'll try ... to ensure people who live here have that (preference)."

The minerals committee also has looked at incentives for use of compressed natural gas in Wyoming, particularly when it comes to school districts and other public groups. Members of the council said they were interested in the idea, as well as Bebout's proposal to send more tax revenue to the state's counties and cities -- particularly smaller ones like Riverton.

"I'd like to see that bill move forward," Bebout said. "But it hasn't in the past, and probably now with the revenue picture it'll be more difficult."

He said it also will be difficult to convince legislators that local governments need more tax revenue when citizens have not voted to implement optional 1 percent property tax initiatives. Fremont County is one of three counties in Wyoming without an optional tax; voters will consider whether they want one Nov. 6.

Bebout sits on the Joint Subcommittee on Federal Natural Resource Management, where he said progress has been made bridging communication gaps between agencies and individuals who use Wyoming land. And he mentioned that $90 million will have to be spent to cover the cost of fighting Wyoming wildfires all summer.

"We're not sure how much the federal government will pay, but hopefully it will be around half," Bebout said. "Our forest fire reserve account has about $6 million in it."

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