SHERIDAN — A quarter of the way through fiscal year 2016 and county officials are being asked to think about where 5 percent of their budgets can be cut next year.
“No one’s happy about this, but we’re probably going to have to decrease the budget next year,” County Commissioner Steve Maier said.
During a meeting earlier this week County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller explained to county elected officials and department heads that the fiscal year 2017 budget isn’t going to get better than the current budget — more likely, it will get worse.
“If I had to cut my budget 5 percent how could I do that; how would I do that?” she told elected officials and department heads to ask themselves during a meeting Wednesday.
Based on the current fiscal year’s budget, a 5 percent cut across the board would come out to an approximate $929,215.60 upcoming budget reduction.
That amount would cover a good percentage of the approximately $1.3 million that was pulled out of county reserves to balance the fiscal year 2016 budget.
Even with that proposed cut, county employees don’t know if it will cover what the budget deficit will be next year.
Officials have said they don’t know what the budget will be because they don’t know what funding they have, and Commissioner Mike Nickel said that’s because some revenue information isn’t available to the county until the end of the current fiscal year in June.
The issue is compounded by the fact that the commissioners added payments in lieu of taxes revenues to the current FY16 budget, roughly $665,000.
That’s money county and municipal governments sometimes receive for non-taxable federal land in their jurisdictions.
However, the federal government has not decided whether to sponsor PILT funding this year. If the federal government decides not to pay, cuts across the board could be even steeper.
Because of this, all the county can do is wait and prepare.
“Working together and starting early is going to be our best plan,” Nickel said.
With money tight in the county, Commissioner Tom Ringley pointed out that this is a problem for more than just Sheridan County.
“We’re not the only team in the state going through this challenge, other counties and the state are as well,” he said.
Just this week a report on state finances outlined dramatic decreases to the overall state budget, including a possible decrease of 20 percent or more in revenue for the 2017-2018 budget.
Fremont and Park counties saw budget losses of more than $10 million each.
A lot, if not most, of those deficits have been based on the decreasing tax revenue coming from natural resources.
There are some options.
Obermueller said money the state currently gives to Sheridan comes in the form of capitol project funding through grants. These grants are given for specific projects.
If the state would give that same money to Sheridan through direct funding, with less stringent guidelines on use, it could knock out a lot of the deficit.
County officials are planning on meeting with local state representatives to discuss how, and if, that could be done.
“Projects can be put on hold, public services can’t be put on hold,” Obermueller said.