News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
State giving extra $20 million to local governments
Apr 18, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Fremont County and its municipalities are brainstorming ways to use an extra $20 million the Wyoming Legislature allocated for local governments.
Wyoming was to give $40.5 million to local governments in August, but in February, lawmakers approved an additional $20 million for the direct distribution.
"Most of us have felt that local governments have been squeezed in the past few years," state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said. "Almost every government has included some funding for local governments."
Fremont County will receive an additional $400,000 on top of its original $805,000.
Dubois will see $100,000 up from $64,000; Hudson will see $58,000 up from $36,000; Lander will see $634,000 up from $427,000; Pavillion will see $39,000 up from $23,000; Shoshoni will see $73,000 up from $46,000; and Riverton will see $890,000 up from $601,000.
The money is allocated according to a formula largely based on population.
Legislators also loosened constraints on the money. Language in the budget passed in 2012 said the direct distribution of the $40.5 million was for "one time needs or for equipment or other purchases of limited duration" and not for recurring expenditures such as personnel costs or utilities.
The supplemental budget passed in February, which includes the additional $20 million, eliminated the language about one-time needs and utilities. The new law only directs local governments not to spend the money on "adjustments, additional personnel or increased personnel benefits."
Case said many lawmakers knew they wanted to increase the direct distribution to local governments all along. They waited until the end of this year's session when they had a better picture of the budget overall before finalizing the amount in aid to counties, cities and towns.
Case pointed to other new revenue streams for counties and municipalities the Legislature approved such as the 10-cent fuel tax increase and the state lottery.
"So I think they did pretty well this year," he said.
The Fremont County Commission has discussed using its extra $400,000 to help pay for a new Riverton justice center.
The City of Riverton will receive almost $300,000 more than it did last year.
City administrator Steven Weaver said the city first uses its direct distribution for third-party requests such as youth services, the Alcohol Crisis Center, the Chamber of Commerce, the Riverton American Legion and recreational services. Then the money is used on capital
"We're excited to get a little more money," Weaver said. "We have a lot of capital projects to be done."
He said combined with the optional 1 percent sales tax, the city will have a substantial amount of funds to work on those projects.
The new sales tax took effect April 1.
The city is currently working on its budget, and it will present suggestions and plans for the uses of the supplemental funding in work sessions and city council meetings.
Weaver said more than $350,000 was spent on third party requests last year.
The extra money marks an increase over recent years when the City of Lander received about $427,000.
Treasurer Charri Lara thinks the Legislature has used the supplemental direct distribution to replace revenue municipalities lost when a sales tax on food ended several years ago.
"I think they're still trying to make up for the food tax that went away," she said.
Lara said the city has decided to set aside $100,000 of the extra revenue in a fund to pay out employees' retirement. She said many employees cash out accumulated vacation and sick time on their last check.
The city council is working to curb accumulation of paid time off.
Lara said councilors will discuss what to do with the rest of the extra revenue at a future work session.
Hudson Mayor Jake Hamon said his town government has not discussed how to use the extra revenue, but he expects it will be used on infrastructure.
"The main thing is some of the old water valves," he said. "(But) I'm sure that wouldn't be enough to do all of them."
Small towns received more direct distribution money several years ago, Hamon said, but population shifted toward larger municipalities and towns lost funding. He thinks the supplemental income will make up for some of the funds Hudson lost.
-- Staff writer Alejandra Silva contributed to this story.