Mar 24, 2015

County eyes $1 million in cuts, worried about dwindling dollars

Fearing fewer dollars from the federal government and fewer taxes from the slumping oil and gas industry, Park County commissioners are hoping to trim $1 million from the county’s budget.

At a preliminary budget meeting last week, commissioners directed county departments to cut their non-personnel expenses by 4 percent.

“We know next year’s (budgeting process) could be brutal, with oil fast approaching the $30 (a barrel) range,” said Commissioner Tim French, adding that the area's oil fetches lower than average prices. Oil and gas accounts for roughly half of the county's tax base, Park County Assessor Pat Meyer has said.

French described 4 percent cuts as “somewhere to start.”

The county's general budget for the current fiscal year — which funds entities ranging from the sheriff's office to the annual Park County Fair — is just over $28 million.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said 4 percent cuts may not be large enough.

“Go ahead and do more; we’re not going to turn you down,” quipped Commissioner Lee Livingston.

County officials will know a lot more as the end of the fiscal year, June 30, draws a little closer.

For example, commissioners have been concerned that the county is getting about $250,000 less than expected from the federal government's Secure Rural Schools program. However, early indications are that the county should eventually get about $1 million more than expected in federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes — meaning the county could actually end up $750,000 ahead on federal dollars.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the impact from the recent drop in oil and gas values won't really be felt at the county government level until next year.

For that reason, Commissioner Bucky Hall said it may be OK if a department can't make 4 percent cuts this year, but that might mean more severe cuts a year from now.

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