Green River Star -

Our View: 20 percent might be too much to ask

 


Sweetwater County, like every other governing body in Wyoming, faces a severe funding problem as a result of a decline in natural gas and coal prices.

Discussion taking place between the Sweetwater County Commissioners Tuesday morning heavily foreshadow tough economic choices to be made amongst the county department heads and the directors of its satellite agencies. With a projected 20 percent decrease in county revenues, amounting to a loss of about $8 million total, the county commissioners are doing the right in telling the various groups they fund not to expect the same level of funding they previously have had. Yet, telling those same groups to expect a cut of about 20 percent is taking things too far, too soon. Imagine it this way: a hypothetical organization with a $5 million budget is being asked to cut at least $1 million for the next fiscal year

Such a severe cut to any budget, which amounts to a fifth of an agency’s 2015-2016 operating budget, will likely lead to reductions in staff. In our eyes, it’s unavoidable. One of the largest costs any organization deals with is the cost related to its employees. Not just simply paying wages and salaries, but other costs including those associated with insurance plans, matches into retirement plans and other benefits quickly add up.

We believe Commissioners Reid West and Randy Wendling were on the right track in seeking funds from the county’s reserves to offset the budgetary sting coming from the revenue decline, but we think the proposal they pushed, which would have used $2 million to offset the $8 million shortfall, didn’t go far enough. We think the county should consider using $4 million in reserves for the next two fiscal years to offset the steep nature of the upcoming revenue shortfalls.

This would mean agencies would expect a 10 percent decrease this year, which is something we feel is much more manageable than a strict 20 percent cut. This would give agencies time to ease into their newer, leaner budgets and cut positions through attrition as opposed to the likely scenario of employee layoffs.

We think the reserves better serve the county being used in this manner. While the county should be commended for reducing its employee count during the past five years, clearly more cuts are needed to be in line with current revenue estimates.

Giving county agencies two years to tighten their belts gives everyone more time to ease into the new economic reality Sweetwater County and other local governments will exist within.

 

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