Park County commissioners plan to maintain their funding for local senior centers, but most of the other outside organizations they typically support — ranging from economic development …
Park County commissioners plan to maintain their funding for local senior centers, but most of the other outside organizations they typically support — ranging from economic development organizations to youth and recycling programs — are set to receive significantly less money from the county over the coming year.
Commissioners have been cutting funding for their own departments amid a tight budget and uncertain economic times and saw no reason to exempt special requests.
By the time commissioners finished their review of the requests last week, they had slashed special funding to $221,500 — a more than $134,000 drop, or 37.8%, from a year ago.
“There’s a storm coming,” Commissioner Jake Fulkerson said of what next year’s budget might bring, adding, “I’m ready to flatten the can; I’m not ready to kick it down the road.”
Commissioner Dossie Overfield noted that the county’s costs, like utilities, rise each year and “we have to find it or take it from somewhere.” The county has generally been putting off maintenance projects to make ends meet and “you can’t keep doing that,” she said.
“My thought is we have to fund the things that are basically required under statutes, offices that we have to have … before we fund some of the other outside special funding things,” Overfield said.
While recognizing the value of the services, Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said all of the outside requests “should be subject to the same thing as our planning and zoning, our assessor’s office, our clerk’s office — and we’ve cut them to the bare minimum.”
None of the decisions are final and commissioners will take public comment on the entire proposed budget at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 6.
Commissioners made particularly heavy cuts to funding for recreation. For instance, they eliminated all funding for the Cody Shooting Complex — cutting $16,000.
“I think it’s a great facility, but if the doors shut tomorrow, people are not going to be damaged,” Commissioner Lee Livingston said of the shooting complex.
Added Commission Chairman Joe Tilden, “If they need to raise their dues a little bit, that’s fine.”
Later in the day, in a separate action, commissioners cut funding from the county’s own Parks and Recreation Board by $40,000, down to a new total budget of $140,000.
Both Overfield and Tilden spoke about the importance of recreation, especially to youth. Tilden said summer programs that are partially funded by the board help keep kids busy “and off the ... street,” wondering what value might be assigned to preventing one kid from getting hooked on marijuana.
But Fulkerson said it was a question of finding places where cutting funding will do the least amount of damage to the county’s primary job.
“When funding is tight in Park County, the quality of life suffers,” he said.
Other programs for youth also got a trim.
Commissioners completely dropped their support of the annual graduation parties for Powell, Cody and Meeteetse high school seniors (saving $1,140), trimmed funding for the Youth Clubs of Park County (from $13,133 to $9,000) and came within one vote of eliminating all county funding for Park County 4-H.
Fulkerson, who favored zeroing out the county’s support of the Youth Clubs and 4-H, said he considered 4-H to be a form of “recreation.” Overfield, however, said the organization is more education-based.
“There is a recreational aspect to it, but the majority of it is education,” concurred Tilden. “Park County is a farming county.”
The board ultimately settled on $4,000 — half of 4-H’s $8,000 request and down from the $10,000 the county provided last year.
Forward Cody and the Powell Economic Partnership were not immune from the reductions, either. Commissioners trimmed both economic development organizations’ funding back to $10,000 — representing a roughly $7,500 cut for Forward Cody and a $4,000 reduction for PEP — while speaking highly of the groups.
“I think we get everything back from them that we put into ‘em,” said Thiel.
However, commissioners were unanimous on the cuts.
Last year, commissioners initially proposed halving the county’s support of recycling programs in Powell, Cody and Meeteetse, but reversed course after hearing from recycling supporters. This year, commissioners are proposing even bigger cuts.
“I know it’s important to a lot of people, so I would support it to an extent, but not to what we’re running currently,” said Thiel.
The commission plans to axe most of its funding for Powell Valley Recycling — questioning why the nonprofit was receiving more than other groups — and provide $2,500 instead of the $8,847 approved last year. The commission also cut their support of the City of Cody’s recycling program to $2,500 (down by $1,878) and the Town of Meeteetse’s (from $876 to $500).
Other community groups
Meanwhile, the Cody Christian food pantry Mannahouse had its support trimmed by $493, to an even $8,000, while the City of Powell Animal Shelter’s support was cut by $502, down to $3,000. Commissioners said every entity needs to feel the budget cuts.
They approved the $10,000 requested by Park County Crisis Intervention Services, but that was down from the $12,257 approved a year ago. Commissioner Livingston said the nonprofit “provides a great service for families and kids.”
The Park County drug court program, meanwhile, is set to receive $12,000 from the county.
“It saves the state and the county so much money,” Fulkerson said of the program, which is aimed at keeping people out of prison and substance free.
The commission cut $10,000 worth of funding from Yellowstone Behavioral Health — a nonprofit organization that provides mental health care — to a new total of $40,000.
“This is another one that’s so critical for the community,” said Fulkerson, but he said it’s “not the same as the senior centers providing meals for seniors.”
The board decided to essentially maintain the funding for the county’s three senior centers. The Powell and Cody centers are each set to receive $47,000, with $10,000 headed to Meeteetse’s center, totals that are down just slightly from a year ago.
“They do more with less than any of these, as far as I’m concerned,” said Thiel.
Commissioners had provided $2,400 toward the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s carcass removal program — which hauls dead animals from the properties of private landowners in grizzly bear territory — but the department didn’t request more funding this year. Whether the Game and Fish would have gotten any county cash was an open question.
“Personally I’m having a difficult time giving money, taxpayer dollars, to a program that protects an animal that we never get delisted,” said Tilden. That saved $2,400.
Another $26,000 was saved when Cody Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources (CYAIR) — a group that effectively helps subsidize certain commercial flights into the Cody airport — indicated it wouldn’t need funding this year. With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the airline industry, CYAIR isn’t going to be seeking any extra flights this year — and it still has the county’s contribution from last year “in the bank,” Tilden said.
Meanwhile, thanks in part to an extra donation that commissioners put toward a new shelter last year, Park County Animal Shelter leaders in Cody didn’t seek another $10,506 contribution in 2020.
As commissioners went through the list, they frequently remarked about the good work being done by the organizations.
All of them “serve a vital interest to the people of Park County,” chairman Tilden said at one point, soberly adding that, “without our funding, a lot of these things are going to go away; there’s no question about that.”