CHEYENNE – As part of Gov. Matt Mead’s final supplemental budget request, the outgoing governor included several funding items that could prove very beneficial for cities and counties in Wyoming.
Included in the $148 million supplemental budget for the second half of the 2019-20 biennium was an additional $5 million in direct distributions to municipal and county governments, $20 million in countywide consensus grants and $1.5 million in funding for governments to develop local resource plans.
All three of those items could go a long way toward helping county and city governments deal with years of declining revenues and budget cuts. Any of the items included in Mead’s budget requests would need to be approved by the Legislature when it meets next year.
Rick Kaysen, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, said the funding requests included in Mead’s supplemental budget were much appreciated. While $5 million in direct funding would be spread out over the 99 municipalities and 23 county governments, Kaysen said it would still free up general fund dollars to address serious needs that would otherwise go unaddressed without the state funding.
While the requests still have to be accepted and approved by state lawmakers, Kaysen said he was banking on the Legislature to hear Mead’s request and respond accordingly.
“The municipalities need the dollars, especially some of our smaller towns across the state. There is a significant need for these dollars,” Kaysen said. “I’m banking on the Legislature approving at minimum what the governor has recommended, and hopeful the Legislature would see fit to add some additional dollars to into those funding sources.”
Pete Obermueller, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, said Mead’s request on countywide consensus grants and local resource plans could have a significant impact on local governments. He praised Mead for his continuous work in supporting local governments during his tenure.
Consensus grants require county and municipal governments to work together to identify infrastructure projects within their boundaries and prioritize the most significant needs. The $20 million Mead’s requesting, if approved by the Legislature, would be the first time in several years the program has been funded.
Obermueller said county and municipal governments went to the Legislature when lawmakers were dealing with the fallout of the state’s recession and asked for the $70 million grant program to be suspended. Even partially funding the program again would go a long way toward local governments addressing serious infrastructure needs that have been put on hold while Wyoming worked its way back to stronger financial footing.
“We know the state hasn’t fully recovered, but local governments are lagging behind that recovery. We need to start the discussion about restarting that program,” Obermueller said. “The $40 million in the biennium isn’t a full recovery of that program, but we think it’s time to start the conversation.”
Obermueller said the $1.5 million for local resource plans would allow local governments that don’t have the expertise or funding sources to create their own resource plans. Those plans are used when working with federal land agencies on decisions that directly impact local governments.
Given some governments don’t have the resources or expertise to develop those plans without additional support, the $1.5 million could have a big impact, Obermueller said.
Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr said Mead’s requests were an example of his support for local governments and the recognition that many places were hurting for funding to address growing needs.
Orr said the funding identified in the supplemental budget is needed, especially in smaller communities that don’t have a substantial base to benefit from increases in sales and use taxes. But what the Legislature should also do is take a hard look at how local governments are funded and work toward serious tax reform, she said.
“We need to address the systemic issue of how do we fund cities, towns and counties going forward without coal (revenues),” Orr said. “While we are diversifying our economy, what hasn’t been diversified is our tax structure, and I think those are questions that will come up in the next session. And I expect some really great debates on where we should go with it.”