After a public hearing during which no one from the public spoke, the Natrona County Commission approved its budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year on Tuesday.

The $55 million budget is essentially flat from the previous year, with no raises for employees, commission Chairman Forrest Chadwick said after the meeting.

However, commissioner Matt Keating expressed disappointment that the Sheriff's Office deputies did not not receive funding for their retirement like other county employees did.

But Chadwick said deputies are on a different retirement program with the state than other county employees. Deputies can retire earlier, and that requires different calculations about how much the county matches their own contributions for their retirement, he said.

If the budget had contributed to the deputies' retirement like it does for other employees, that would have essentially given them a raise, Chadwick said.

Even though no employees will receive raises, the county commission may be able to offer them bonuses, depending on how revenues recover from the oil industry price shocks from earlier this year, he said.

Despite the nearly 50 percent drop in oil prices from a year ago, the county's revenues came close to what was anticipated for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Chadwick said.

Much of the county's revenues come from sales taxes.

But a 21 percent drop in sales tax revenues in May compared to May 2014 jolted the county departments and the commissioners just as they were starting to work on the new budget, Chadwick said. He didn't immediately recall the dollar amounts from those months.

The one-month revenue drop doesn't make a trend, but it did make the commissioners nervous enough to take a much more conservative approach in crafting the new budget, he said.

After the public hearing during which no one from the public spoke, Keating also urged his fellow commissioners to take a hard look at the future of the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, program. "We need to have a conversation about what to do if it isn't there in the future."

PILT provides local governments with funding to partially offset losses in property tax due to non-taxable federal lands within their borders. The program has been in jeopardy, however, and the past several years of funding have only been approved by the federal government on a year-to-year basis.

Keating said the county should take a hard look at what services it offers that may not be as essential as others.

Chadwick said the county received its PILT check in late June for $2.9 million. Another $300,000 may be coming before the end of the federal government's fiscal year ends, which is Sept. 30.

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