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July 05, 2013 8:31 am

EDITORIAL: Remember need for infrastructure work during budget talks

Written by Ilene Olson

As local and state governments headed into fiscal year 2014 on Monday, they all had at least one thing in common: budget cuts.

The state of Wyoming, Park County, the cities of Powell and Cody, Park County School District No. 1 and Northwest College all had to trim expenses during the past few months as revenue estimates continued to remain lower than previous levels. Now, they are challenged with providing the same services — or as close to the same as possible — with less money.

The city of Powell held its budget hearing last month; the county, the school district and the college all have scheduled budget hearings this month.

As revenues decrease, the temptation often is to trim the amount of money spent on maintenance, repair and infrastructure. While that is reasonable, up to a point, local government leaders should make sure that buildings, streets, roads and other infrastructure are maintained adequately to prevent deterioration.

During the 1990s, Wyoming experienced a similar revenue decline due to falling oil and mineral prices. During those years, state agencies often cut back on maintenance and repair costs to make ends meet.

While that’s understandable, it resulted in a huge backlog of repairs needed statewide.

When the state’s mineral income took an upswing again at the turn of the 21st century, agency representatives figuratively stood in line before the Joint Appropriations Committee in Cheyenne to plead their cases for more money to fix up their buildings, schools, offices, parking lots, outdoor facilities and infrastructure. The list of facility and infrastructure needs was staggering, and much of the state’s revenue influx in the years following went into filling the financial hole created by that deferred maintenance and repair.

As a result, the Legislature established a deferred maintenance fund that provides tens of millions of dollars each biennium to maintain state facilities and to address the backlog of maintenance needs.

The consequences of putting off maintenance or repair projects often are not immediately obvious, so it’s natural to say, “We can put that off until next year.”

But if that happens for too many years, the build-up need can be overwhelming, and the consequences become much larger and much more immediate. For instance, putting off roof maintenance can lead to a leaky roof, which then must be repaired immediately — at a much higher cost.

Local city, and county leaders don’t have an easy task trying to trim or cut while continuing to serve residents effectively. We urge them to make those decisions wisely and follow through carefully to keep buildings and infrastructure in good repair while keeping residents safe and providing necessary services.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link July 08, 2013 9:59 am posted by Salty Dawg

    Perhaps so called "conservatives" should have thought about a budget when they were pooping off massive amounts of money on unnecessary new schools all over the state,and tearing down good buildings.No sympathy here.

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