Cuts, Candidates and Congress
By: Pete Obermueller, WCCA Executive Director
It’s been a difficult start to the year for many. The private sector in Wyoming, driven largely by commodity prices, continues to see losses in revenue. Layoffs have become a reality, and the ripple effects to small businesses cannot be denied. Those ripple effects extend to state and local governments too as clearly indicated in the recent Consensus Revenue Estimating Group report. All of this you know as you have begun the difficult work of setting county budgets for FY17 in the face of significantly less revenue to carry out the state’s work at the county level. The Wyoming Insights report gives a clear indication of the challenges we all face.
The state has responded by seeking a target of 8% cut from every agency and department that receives money from the state’s general fund. Local government’s direct distribution came from the rainy day fund, so is not currently subject to the 8% reduction. However, it is important for counties to know that these cuts will undoubtedly trickle down, both directly and indirectly. Directly, recall that one half of your County Attorney’s salary, and as much as 30% of your Deputy County Attorney’s salaries are paid by the state general fund, which means these funds are subject to the 8% target cut. “Target” is the important word as the Governor has made it clear that some agencies may not be able to reach 8%, and others must exceed it. However, the point remains that Commissioners may need to decide if you can backfill the potential loss to the County Attorney. Indirectly, many programs at the state agency level that assist counties are discretionary and could be ended or shifted to counties. One example that is the Department of Family Services may end or at least sunset paying for ankle monitoring of juvenile offenders. If your county would like to keep this program going (as opposed to increased use of jails), the county and/or city may have to pay the third party vendor itself.
Despite these challenges, your Association continues to advocate on your behalf and seek new and innovative ways to solve our common challenges. I have been travelling the state meeting with Commissioners, beginning with the 10 counties that saw revenue flow away from them owing to the passage of the Madden Matrix distribution formula. I’ve been working on strategies to reduce costs for workers compensation premiums, and WyoLink (more on that in a future blog). Additionally, we at the WCCA have been working hard to complete our usual suite of educational documents like the Revenue Estimating Manual.
New this year is a pamphlet we put together for potential Commissioner candidates. Every year I receive calls from candidates asking for insights on what it means to be a Commissioner. This always puts me in a tough spot because I run the Commissioners Association, not the Candidate for Commissioner Association. Still, part of our mission is preparing public servants to be effective, and I suppose one can never start too early at that. Rather than give out the full handbook available to sitting Commissioners, the pamphlet will help direct candidates toward other sources publically available.
Finally, our work with the federal government – both agencies and the legislature – continues full steam ahead. In February a team of Commissioners and Gregory Cowan had several meaningful meetings with agencies in DC. In April Commissioner Joel Bousman appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to discuss county input on Endangered Species Act issues, and in May Gregory and I will be appearing before the House Natural Resources Committee to discuss county interests in the planning process contemplated under the BLM Planning 2.0 document. Gregory is helping to spearhead a more coordinated effort among his counterparts in other western county associations. And, oh yeah, WPLI has begun in earnest. The WCCA continues to be a go-to source for information, assistance, and innovative solutions regarding county interests at the federal level.
Speaking of information and assistance, I look forward to seeing many of you in Jackson at the end of May. This is a great opportunity for you to experience a WIR conference without the added plane travel expense. This is the first time this event has been hosted in Wyoming, and it is unlikely to be back here any time soon. The folks in Teton County deserve a ton of credit for working hard to put on a great conference. I hope that even in these challenging times you will make plans to attend.