The BUZZ: Budget balancing

By on June 23, 2015

Town, county spending is up


The State of Wyoming recently approved $1 million in funding to fix the Budge Drive landslide, but that’s just a drop in the bucket for this $8 million dollar disaster.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The county’s general fund budget for FY 2016 will just about hit the $39 million mark. The 5 percent increase is due in part to new hires the county has put off since the economic downturn. The Town of Jackson will also be looking to finalize its 2015-2016 budget at a recommended $18,436,774—that’s up almost 3 percent from last year.

Some of the valley’s big ticket items also need to be addressed in the coming fiscal year including Budge slide mitigation, a state-mandated landfill cap and closure and a repair of Swinging Bridge.

The biggest jumps in the town’s budget include payroll related increases of 5.2 percent, a growing Fire/EMS budget now at $258,272 (a 21 percent increase over 2014-15), and a $193,491 increase in Parks & Recreation’s allocation (up 15 percent from last year).

About 36 percent of the town’s general fund is eaten up by public safety expenditures. Some detractors of the expanding law enforcement budget, including former Planet arts critic Aaron Wallis, worry new technology purchased by the town will bring Jackson closer to a “police state.”

“I am so fearful of giving data to government agencies,” Wallis wrote in an email to Mayor Sara Flitner. Wallis added that his worry was the license plate recognition software, which the town will purchase in 2016 at $158,100, could open the door for abuse and harassment of innocent citizens.

“I hear our chief [Todd Smith] is a decent man and I imagine he is just doing his job,” Wallis added.

The council also agreed to spend $32K of municipal money, in addition to $28K in state grant money, for an e-citation ticketing system that would allow cops to scan motorist’s licenses, feed the information into a database and issue a ticket on the spot.

Public safety expenditures at the county level are up 24 percent in 2016 to a total of $7.4 million. The county Sheriff’s Office is scheduled to receive a 21 percent increase to budgeted $4,353,547 in 2016.

Big money fixes

The town’s hopes that the state would come to the rescue of the Budge Drive landslide were somewhat dampened last week after an announcement that the State Loan and Investment Board approved $1 million toward stabilization efforts at the site that destroyed one home and forced a Walgreens store to close permanently.

The April 2014 landslide is expected to cost more than $8 million to fix. Town and county officials have not said where the money will come from but did not rule out a Special Purpose Excise Tax, or SPET, in coming years to help defer repair costs.

Meanwhile, the dilapidated Swinging Bridge was dealt a deathblow in the form of a truck-bridge collision that resulted in the closure of its Snake River span that allows motorists to reach their homes in the Porcupine Creek area.

Earlier studies by WYDOT estimated the weakening bridge would soon need one million dollars of work to get it through another few decades. Insurance costs are expected to pay most, if not all, of the estimated $350,000 to repair Swinging Bridge. Those repairs, however, would not guarantee the bridge’s lifespan beyond a few more years.

The county lucked out in 2013 when the U.S. Forest Service agreed to let operators of the landfill borrow five of the 17.8 acres that the USFS owns in Horsethief Canyon in order to excavate trash from the dumpsite, which closed in 1989. That cut down on the amount of cleanup and capping county officials were looking at in order to satisfy DEQ requirements that leaching contaminants be contained and left undisturbed for 30 years.

The job was estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $13 million. County officials think they can get it done for about $10 million. Voters approved $14.58 million for the closure in the November 2012 SPET.

County bean counters have also set aside three-quarters of a million dollars for one-time fixes on the Heritage Arena roof ($300,000), Adams Canyon sewer ($200,000) and the transfer station scalehouse ($250,000).

Fiscal outlook

Balancing the county budget depends heavily on property values remaining robust—a job for new assessor Andy Cavallaro. At a 9.154 mill levy, Teton County is one of a very few in the state that does not assess the full 12 mills allowed by state statute, so revenue dependence hinges on property tax continuing to stream in at a projected $14,610,644 in 2016.

The town’s budget balancing lives and dies on sales tax revenue. Collections have been above expectations to start the calendar year. If sales tax growth continues to reflect the anticipated 3 percent rate of growth, the boost in revenue stream could just about offset an overall wage increase of 3.5 percent. Big jumps in expenditures at the town level include healthcare costs (up 8 percent) and fuel costs (9.6 percent). Overall, fuel costs have been down but expanded START Bus services will burn more diesel in FY 2016 than in the previous year.

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