County commissioners hold 2018-2019 budget hearing

EVANSTON — The Uinta County Commissioners held the public hearing for the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget on Monday, July 16. Commissioner Eric South called the meeting to order and asked Jim Hissong to lead with the pledge to the flag.

Garie Henry, secretary and treasurer with the Uinta County Rural Fire District, presented the district’s budget.

“The Uinta County Rural Fire District will be able to continue the 2.5 mill levy for the budget year ending [June 30],” he wrote on the budget handout, “even though this year seems more fire-conducive than years previous. We will once again bite the bullet and hold our expenses to the conservative side.”

Henry said there was zero allowance placed on reserve in this budget, but if the district did not have to use all of the $900,000 estimated expense in wildland suppression, that would be placed into the reserve account. Expected revenue on the Fire District budget is estimated at $1,599,052 and estimated expenses at the same amount for a balanced budget.

When asked if they expected to receive reimbursement for any fire damages from FEMA, Henry responded, “We will be glad if we get it, but we don’t count on any money from the federal government. I can’t include that on the budget if I don’t know for sure if we will get it. That would be unfair to the public. I hope I’m wrong and we get it.”

Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson delivered Uinta County’s 2019 budget. In her discussion, Hutchinson said that even though Uinta County will experience a small increase in property tax revenue over the last fiscal year, it will still be down nearly $1.4 million since fiscal year 2016. Sales and use taxes and fees have also declined since 2016 by $2 million.

Hutchinson went on to discuss the continued effect of health insurance premiums on the overall budget. In 2018, insurance rates increased by 12.53 percent. Even though the commissioners continue to fund 87 percent of the health insurance and full-time employees pay 13 percent, most employees were taking home less income because medical and retirement has continually increased since 2009 without any increase in wages.

Because increasing funding for county employees has been a major priority for this budget year, Hutchinson said the 2019 budget does include a cost of living increase, along with some merit increases requested by supervisors. The 2019 budget also includes funds for the sheriff’s office to replace some of the positions they were unable to hire due to recent budget constraints.

Hutchinson included all of the taxes, mill levies, various agency fees and cash carryover that make up the general fund revenues of $25,798,714 for the fiscal year. She showed special fund revenues coming from many sources: federal, city, state and local grants as well as from road taxes, E911 fund and fees from the landfill fund. Also included in the county budget was money set aside for reserve funding. This is important for emergencies, specific projects, necessary new equipment, needed repairs and capital improvement reserves.

Hutchinson showed detailed expenses for each department, including maintenance for county roads and bridges (including staffing), county buildings, the youth camp, law and order departments of the sheriff department, the jail, the county attorney office, the clerk of court office, the coroner and all other county services.

“We have been fortunate to get through the slow years, and I hope we don’t have to dip into reserves in this still bleak economy. We have great employees who have worked hard under the circumstances,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson concluded her presentation by listing plans for the future. These included maintaining and expanding the county infrastructure to expand economic development, to prepare for future revenue shortfalls and to retain the county’s outstanding employees. Copies of the detailed budget will be available for review in the county clerk’s office.

Next on the agenda was Jim Hissong with the Evanston/Uinta County Human Services Joint Powers Board fiscal year budget. When reviewing the requests from the different agencies, he said, “When money was tight, they made decisions based on merit and longevity. New projects from new agencies were a low priority when deciding how much was allotted to each. You don’t want new agencies to become dependent on that money.”

Recommendations from the Human Services Tripartite Board for each agency was less than requested, with some remaining at the same amount as fiscal year 2018. Agencies have been apprised to seek additional funding elsewhere.

Hissong also addressed the budget requests for the Joint Powers Board, which is responsible for the Human Services building. Total revenues that come in from leases, interest and miscellaneous such as vending machines along with reserves from the Joint Powers Board total $497,014. Anticipated expenses include supplies, professional services, wages, operating costs, equipment purchases and capital improvements and repairs, totaling $278,348. Anticipated revenues are $217,046, which is a shortfall of more than $61,000 (although Hissong noted there is money in reserve).

“Right now, we have 40 percent of the building that is empty, and the board wants to keep the rent low because of the nonprofit status of the agencies in the building and that was the purpose of the building,” Hissong said, noting that the last rent increase was in July 2008. “I do have a tentative interested party looking to rent right now and am hopeful we can get the building filled soon.”

When there were no questions, the meeting moved to the next person on the agenda. Claire Francis, director of the Uinta County Library, started with a PowerPoint presentation from the Wyoming State Library about the importance of a library in a community. Francis began her budget request by saying the Uinta County Library is the lowest in funding and staffing in the state per capita. None of the employees receive benefits, and the library’s budget request is a barebones budget with all of the necessary expenditures to operate. The library 2019 budget request is $375,085, which is a little more than half of what was requested in fiscal year 2017-2018, and revenues are based on a three-year average.

The library hopes to maintain the services to the community that have been provided in the past, even with all of the budget cuts. Francis stressed the need to keep all three libraries open and serving their areas. Because they are service-oriented agencies, most of the money requested goes to staff. Also, because they are part of a state-wide consortium, the state library helps with many services.

“The challenge is all the new programs that are expected,” Francis said. “Everything is changing in libraries and, because we are short-staffed, to take the time to learn all the new things … will be a challenge. Because of our wonderful staff and help from the state, we are able to provide a lot of our services.

“Thank you for working with us,” she said, “and I want to thank the commissioners for working with us on the problem of the timing of paying bills.”

Commissioner Eric South responded, “We appreciate what you do and what you have done. Thank you.”

Last on the agenda was Ami Barker representing the Uinta County Fair Board. She thanked the commission for its support in the last year. She mentioned that their revenues are down for this budget year and last year due to 55 percent lower ticket sales and beer sales due to not having a concert. However, she said, costs were down for the same reason, as they didn’t have to expend $45,000 in advertising to the Wasatch Front and secure a band and equipment. Also, the fair books are online now, further reducing expenses.

The fair’s anticipated expenditures are $178,105. The current budget request for 2018-2019 is $93,965 in expenditures, which is the same as last year. Barker said she didn’t print out an amended request, as she will bring the changes to a public meeting and request a higher amount then.

After South asked what would happen if the commission does not approve an amended budget request, Barker said they could use the reserve account instead of an amendment, and WyoStar (all entities that use fairground facilities) also has funds available that could go into the reserve account if proceeds don’t meet the needs.

She concluded by thanking the commissioners for working with the fair board to keep the fair going.

The budget passed the following day, on Tuesday, July 17, during the regular county commission meeting.

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