Natrona County Commission Sets Budget; No Employee Layoffs Expected
It hasn't been the best of times for Natrona County with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.
"There were a couple of months in there that we were 19% off of the year before in sales and use taxes," Chairman Rob Hendry said after a commission work session on Tuesday. "And that's a scary thought."
But the economy rebounded enough to keep the county commission from setting a drastic slash-and-burn budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year that begins Wednesday.
"Our end result wasn't too bad and we're hoping that will continue," Hendry said.
The commission at the work session had just tentatively approved the $42.6 million general fund budget -- scheduled for a formal vote next week -- to fund public safety, parks, roads and bridges, the library and other services.
County departments began submitting their requests in late April and early May, and their representatives outlined their needs in the shadow of the economic fallout from the public health restrictions imposed to control the spread of COVID-19 and the fall of oil prices.
As it turned out, the new budget of $42,624,484 is similar to that of the fiscal year ending Tuesday, Hendry said.
That does not include restricted funds for roads and lake funds such as the money generated at Alcova Reservoir, which must be plowed back into improvements and cannot be used for other county purposes.
When the other funds are included, the total budget is $48,727,151, he said.
"We don't anticipate any layoffs, nor do we anticipate any furloughs," commission Forrest Chadwick said.
Hendry said a hiring freeze is still in effect, but the county is filling vacant positions.
The budget includes savings for projects including paving at the Fairgrounds, tile work at the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, installing a generator and sprinkler system at the Casper-Natrona County International Airport, paving the parking lot at the University of Wyoming Extension Service on Fairgrounds Road, and upgrading backup systems for the county's computers.
On the revenue side, the anticipated income for the new fiscal year is $43,271,580, Hendry said. "That's a ballpark number."
That gives the county an approximately $657,000 cushion for unexpected expenses or funding shortfalls, he said.
The county's income comes primarily from property taxes, which amount to about $15 million; followed by sales taxes; optional one-cent sales taxes; and Payment in Lieu of Taxes from the federal government. The county received the $3.8 million PILT check on Monday. The PILT program compensates counties for projected lost revenues because local governments cannot tax federal property.
Natrona County also receives a portion, $2.3 million, of $105 million allocated by the Legislature for local governments, Chadwick said.
However, Chadwick and Hendry are aware that the Legislature faces a huge budget shortfall and the allocation to local governments isn't sacred.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Hendry said. "I don't think they'll cut that out unless they can figure out a way to put something in."
A somewhat surprising revenue source comes from parimutuel betting, which netted $1.3 million for the county, he said.
"That's huge; people are gambling a lot; they're home," Hendry said. "That's turned into a big deal for the county."
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