From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 45 - 7/6/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

County Commissioners Crunch Budget Numbers
As the County Budget comes into focus, one thing is clear, Sublette is one rich county
by Rob Shaul

The County Commissioners spent last Friday and this Monday hammering out the details of fiscal year 2001 county budget. Driven by natural gas production at the Jonah Field, this year's assessed valuation is the highest on record. Each mil of property tax the commissioners choose to levy this year will bring in $475,836. Thus, if the commissioners levy the full 12 mils within their power, they will generate $5.7 million for the county's coffers. Importantly, 87.5% of this property tax revenue will come from the oil and gas industry.

But that's not the end of it. Sublette County also stands to receive $4.1 million in revenue outside the mil levy from such sources as sales taxes, severance tax and County Clerk fees. Adding these two numbers together results in a total revenue amount of $9.8 million in revenue alone, which means Sublette is one very rich county.

At a special meeting last Friday, and their regular meeting this Monday, Bill Cramer, Gordon Johnston and Betty Fear addressed several different budget items. Following is a breakdown of their discussion by specific budget item.

Recreation Board

The commissioners reduced the Recreation Board budget request by $89,550. The Rec Board had requested this amount be set aside in a reserve to be used to eventually enclose and expand the Pinedale Hockey rink. The Pinedale Hockey Association has proposed turning over the existing rink and the land its on to the county, if the county would agree to enclose the facility. The current estimated cost for this hovers around $300,000.

The $89,550 in the Rec Board budget was seen as a down payment on this project, but the commissioners weren't ready to commit with a more solid plan and firmer final cost estimate. "I don't object to setting some money aside, but I do object to the way its being proposed," Mr. Cramer told Rec Board members Dave Bell and Mike Fenn on Monday. "I need a better idea of what we're being asked to fund," he continued.

"I'm certainly not opposed to it, but I want to see a certain amount of planning," added Betty Fear. In their original proposal, the Hockey Association suggested that the building could also be used for public functions other than hockey, such as meetings or Rendezvous events. Along these lines Ms. Fear wanted to see the planning process "involve more people."

Gordon Johnston went on record that he didn't want to fund the project out of the county's 12 mils. "As far as I'm concerned, I need a plan with a bottom line and I will push for a capital facilities tax," he said.

In response to the commissioners' concerns, Mr. Bell requested $2,500 in the Rec Board budget to conduct a countywide survey to assess the needs for a facility like that being proposed. He promised to return to the commissioners with a more solid plan in January.

The commission was open to the idea, and increased the amount for the survey and information collecting efforts to $5,000, but refused to set aside the $89,550.

Mr. Johnston also quizzed Mr. Bell on the Rec Board budget item of $5,000 for the Pinedale Fine Arts Council. Mr. Bell responded that PFAC got into a budgeting problem, and requested $5,000 from the Rec Board. This wasn't good enough for the commissioners, who cut this item from the Rec Board's budget.

Pinedale Preschool

The Pinedale Preschool requested $53,985 from the commissioners to fund its operations this next year, a significant increase in the $8,000 the organization received from the county last year. Traditionally, the Preschool has received a significant portion of the Community Service Block Grant that used to come to the county every year from the state, but a change in the state process for managing that grant has put that source of income in jeopardy. While the commissioners sympathized with the Preschool's plight, they weren't ready to become the major source of income for the organization. Betty Fear began by telling Preschool Director Leslie Swank frankly, "I really don't think that education is a function of county government." Mr. Johnston felt the same. "You've lost funding from a source or two," he told Ms. Swank, "and basically you're asking the county to take over. But it's not a function of county government."

The commissioners pointed out that the Preschool was just one of three or four preschool programs in Pinedale, and that it was possible there simply isn't enough of a market in town to support that many programs. By funding the preschool operations, they wondered if they were interfering with market forces that could lead to consolidation. "I feel we're shoveling sand against the tide," Mr. Johnston would say later.

Eventually, Ms. Swank was told she'd get between $10,000 and $12,000 this year from the county, but not to expect any funding next year.

Pinedale Chamber

Lakeside Lodge partner Greg Ptasnik approached the commissioners representing the Pinedale Area Chamber of Commerce. He requested the commissioners fold the Chamber's liability insurance under the county's insurance plan, and that it pay for the phone and utilities at the Chamber Hut. He got shot down.

"The Chamber, in my opinion, is not an appropriate function of government," said Mr. Johnston. "It should be supported and funded by the people in commerce." Betty Fear agreed. Bill Cramer was more open to the idea, and tasked County Clerk Mary Lankford to at least investigate what it would cost the county to assume liability insurance for the Chamber's events. The bottom line, though, was that the Chamber didn't receive any funding.

Pinedale Learning Center

Learning Center Anita Sullivan of Jackson and Board Chairwoman Peggy Noble of Pinedale requested $10,000 from the county to fund operations at the Big Piney Learning Center. In years past, the county has given approximately $7,000 to the Learning Center to fund operations. They were met with the same reluctance as the Pinedale Preschool and smoldering resentment over the circumstances surrounding Martha Ptasnik's dismissal. Although Ms. Sullivan said the money would be used to fund the salary of an additional instructor in Big Piney, she said the Learning Center had not done any fundraising in that community. "I know you could raise $10,000 in Big Piney," Ms. Fear told her. Eventually both Ms. Fear and Mr. Johnston said they would not fund the $10,000. Mr. Cramer had little to say in the matter.

Recycling Board

The Recycling Board began requesting a sharp increase in its funding way back in January. They initially presented a budget of over $70,000 with the goal to hire a full time director and more staff. They were met with reluctance and skepticism in the county commissioner's room from the beginning. Last year, the county funded approximately $7,000 in operating money for the recycling center.

Eventually, the proposed budget was reduced down to $42,000, but still the commissioners had problems. Mr. Cramer, recycling's strongest supporter on the commission, questioned whether or not a full time director was needed, and he questioned the $13.25/hour wage being proposed for the director, and the $10/hour wages for two more part time employees. Throughout the many discussions, the Recycling Center Board Members have told the commissioners that the volunteers were overworked, and that with more county funding, the center to significantly increase its revenue. In the end, the commissioners weren't convinced.

Gordon Johnston said funding salaries to the extent being asked would be essentially creating a new branch of county government. Mr. Cramer proposed increasing the funding amount to $12,000, but that's as far as he would go. Mr. Johnston and Ms. Fear agreed to that figure.

Museum Board

Jim Latta, Chairman of the Sublette County Museum Board, originally presented a $141,500 budget request to the commissioners earlier this spring. During that first discussion, the commission requested to know how much the Museum Board had in its reserve. The answer that came back was $110,000.

Monday, the commission asked Mr. Latta back to the meeting, to discuss the size of the reserve. Mr. Latta said the Museum Board's philosophy in growing its reserve to this amount was to be able to fully fund its operations for one year if the money became tight at the county. The commissioners understood this reasoning, but didn't agree.

Last year, the Museum Board requested an additional $30,000 from the county to put an addition on the Green River Valley Museum at Big Piney, without mentioning the size of its reserve. Ms. Fear told Mr. Latta that this concerned her. He replied that requesting that $30,000 last year from the county "was a mistake."

"My problem is that none of us on this side of the table knew that big bag of money was sitting there," added Mr. Johnston.

Ultimately, the commissioners reduced the Museum Board's reserve to $50,000, and applied the balance towards this year's budget request.

The Full 12 Mills

Hanging over the county budget discussions this year is a planned 5-year, $5 million courthouse and jail expansion building project to meet space needs for the next 20 years. The county commissioners expect final recommendations from their space consultant in the near future, and architects will be brought online soon after to begin design work.

The commission has already set aside $685,000 for this project, and will add more money this year.

For the taxpayers, this means the commission is set to levy the full 12 mils. Monday, both Betty Fear and Bill Cramer said they would vote to do so, and even Gordon Johnston, who has voted against the final budget the past three years, said he was inclined to vote to levy the full 12 mils because of the courthouse expansion building project.

The commission will hold its final budget hearing 8 p.m., Monday, July 17, in the courthouse. The final budget will be approved at their regular meeting on Tuesday, July 18.

Other Meeting News

The commissioners met with Ted Mollring at lunch to discuss a donation of land to the county government. Mr. Mollring owns the 75 acre hay meadow on the west side of the highway just to the south of Pinedale Town limits. According to Mr. Cramer, Mr. Mollring is considering donation a portion of the land to the Town, County and/or Game & Fish Department. The commissioners said they didn't initially know how land at this location could be used for county government and have requested the county's space consultant to contact Mr. Mollring and investigate the possibilities. "It was a nice offer," said Mr. Cramer, but we don't know if it would work for us."

The commission re-appointed Dale Jensen and Bob Thompson to 3-year terms on the Museum Board. Peggy Bell was re-appointed to a 3-year term on the Planning & Zoning commission and Dr. David Burnett was re-appointed to a 3-year term on the Big Piney Airport Board.

See The Archives for past articles.

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