In the governor’s budget last week, one area that didn’t get a lot of attention is a proposal to increase funding to communities and counties by $175 million. That would be a $40 million increase over his previous proposal. 40 percent of that money would go for infrastructure, such as roads, but the rest would go into operations. If approved, it would come at a time when most local governments are dealing with less revenue. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports.
BOB BECK: Governor Matt Mead says he’s tried to make local government funding a priority since he took office.
MATT MEAD: “You know the local funding is important because that’s where the jobs are created, that’s where people live and if every community and every county is doing well, the state will continue to be strong.”
BECK: By letting governments use money for operations, it allows them to pay for required services, such as law enforcement. The governor says the infrastructure money is equally important.
MEAD: “We still have issues with roads and bridges, water, infrastructure regarding broadband, and I really see in my view the results of getting healthy funding back into government. I think it pays really big dividends for this state.”
(Road noise in Cody)
BECK: This is downtown Cody, Wyoming. Located near Yellowstone, Cody is clearly a tourist town. The city and Park County get a lot of their funding from sales tax, but with the downturn in the national economy in 2008, the County and the City started seeing less revenue. Mayor Nancy Tia Brown says several years ago the legislature removed the sales tax from food. She says initially they gave local governments money to make up for that loss in revenue, but with the state facing its own revenue problems that went away. Brown said many communities have struggled ever since. She appreciates Mead’s acknowledgement of communities.
NANCY TIA BROWN: If it’s healthy as this level, then it creates vibrant economies, vibrant businesses, and that just rolls right up to the state. If we are struggling here, then it’s hard to be much better in any other area.
BECK: The Cody Mayor is especially pleased that the governor is helping out with operations, but she also worries about that money. Since it comes from the state, if the money were to be reduced, it would lead to serious budget cuts. So Brown says they must be smart.
BROWN: I still think we’d be very, very, conservative about how we’d use it for operations. Because you don’t wanna get dependent on it, we never have been and because of that we haven’t had to do big layoffs when that money goes away. But I’m encouraged to see that he’s at least acknowledging that operations are really running thin in most cities.
BECK: And in many counties. Park County Commissioner Loren Grosskopf notes that his county just reduced budgets by four percent. He says it’s possible that the new state money could offset those cuts, but that would first depend on the local economy. If it continues to lag, the new money would be welcome but he’s not sure how it would be used. He says it’s dependent on their local revenue streams.
LOREN GROSSKOPF: If all those remain the same and this $500,000 or whatever it is going to be per year was extra money, that’s entirely different than if our funding streams revenue went down and our costs went up. The $500,000 might be enough to shore up so we wouldn’t have to reduce spending again.
BECK: Evanston is another community that’s struggled with local revenue and Mayor Joy Bell says makes things tough.
JOY BELL: Because we don’t know consistently from year to year what a consistent funding source is, you have a real challenge in building anything new in the community or adding a position instead of taking positions away.
BECK: Bell says the governor’s proposal would provide revenue to keep the community stable and not force the city council to cut back on some important services.
BELL: And when you have to start talking about having to cut services in a city like Evanston, what you start talking about is reducing the quality of life and the things people really like about living here.
BECK: Bell says Evanston’s pay rate lags behind many communities in the state and the funding will also help them raise some salaries. The legislature will have the ultimate say on the budget proposal. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.