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April 21, 2011 7:41 am

EDITORIAL: Local governments begin budget process

Written by Don Amend

With the battle over the federal budget continuing in Washington, it’s easy to forget that, closer to home, government budgets are just beginning to be written for the next fiscal year.

Over the next few months, budgets will be developed and adopted by Park County and the City of Powell as well  as the school district, the community college district and numerous special districts.

It is unlikely that there will be nasty battles such as those we are seeing in Washington during this process, but some tough decisions will have to be made. There will be winners and losers; consequently, some will be unhappy when the budgets are finalized.

Government budgeting in Wyoming isn’t like budgeting in Washington. Deficit spending is not an option, and raising taxes isn’t either. Revenues for most of the boards and commissions receiving tax money are dependent on the assessed valuation of the county, which can rise or fall depending on the economy. A drop in mineral prices can take a big chunk out of that assessed valuation, and mill levies cannot legally be raised to compensate for the falling revenue.

The economy also affects sales tax revenue received by the county and city governments. A current concern is that high gas prices may discourage tourism, and fewer tourists visiting Yellowstone will have a negative effect on county revenues.

Whatever the revenue received by the county and city governments, they will be asked to maintain the services we expect of them as well as meet mandates from the state and federal governments. Some of those required expenditures are flexible; some are not. In addition, governments face the same rising fuel and insurance costs that we all have to deal with.

School districts are different, because the state guarantees a level of funding based on a formula, and it supplements local revenues so that children in every Wyoming school district receive equitable funding for their education. While the school board does have some leeway in how it spends that money, board members also face mandates from above that restrict their flexibility.

All of us have an interest in the budgeting process, because it’s our money that is being spent. But most of us pay little attention, except to complain about our taxes or object to the spending level on some activity we have an interest in.

That’s sad, because, at this level, especially in Wyoming, we are all pretty close to the boards and commissions that serve us, and we can easily approach those who represent us with our concerns in a constructive manner. We have the right to do so as citizens, and we encourage voters to exercise that right.

But while doing so, please remember that, with that right, comes the obligation to understand the demands and limitations those public servants face as they build their budgets for next year.

They may not be able to budget the way we think they should, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t listening to us.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link April 21, 2011 8:10 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Local budgets need to include being "conservative",instead of just acting like it.RINO,s need not apply,but then that would reduce the field to almost nothing around here.

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