SHERIDAN — The Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce hosted a legislative forum Friday, which gave local government officials a chance to brief local legislators on the issues they would like to see addressed in the upcoming legislative session.
The upcoming session is a budget session — where bills that are not related to the state budget need to pass an introductory vote with support from two-thirds of either the House or Senate just to be considered — so some of the issues raised may have to wait until the Legislature’s next general session in 2021. Still, the session is an opportunity to address some persistent needs for local governments.
The legislative session is scheduled to begin in February.
Sheridan County Commission Chairman Tom Ringley told legislators the county is hoping the state can maintain the status quo.
“Sheridan County is on solid footing,” Ringley said. “Barring any significant changes to the current model in federal state and local funding, we won’t have any problem with being confident that we can provide the level of service to the people of Sheridan County that’s required by state statute.”
He explained that five years ago, when the state was experiencing a severe downturn, the county worked to cut back its spending and maintain a relatively lean budget that is still capable of funding the county’s crucial operations.
The county has largely stuck to that model, though it has seen an uptick in some of its sales tax collections, which has allowed it to gradually increase funding to some of its programs.
He noted, though, that 14% of the county’s budget comes from federal and state funding sources; any cuts to the funding the state provides to the county could create difficulties.
The status of direct distribution funds — which are subsidies the state provides to governments around the state that are typically used for capital projects — has been a persistent concern for governments in recent years, particularly when revenue projections suggest lawmakers may have to consider cuts in the coming session.
The Legislature needs to reauthorize the distribution of those funds each biennium, which means Wyoming’s local governments, many of which have become reliant on the funding, could see them suddenly disappear.
Ringley’s message to the local legislators was that Sheridan County will be in good shape, as long as the funding its presently receiving remains in place.
City of Sheridan
Sheridan Mayor Roger Miller also stressed the importance of direct distribution funding to the city’s operations.
He noted direct distribution funds have gone toward dozens of one-time capital improvement projects, like the renovation of city buildings, and has helped fund vehicle replacements and contributed to operations like snow removal.
“We utilize that distribution funding for a lot of really important things in our community,” Miller said.
Miller said he has been meeting with the Wyoming Association of Municipalities — a group that lobbies on behalf of the state’s cities and towns — and the group plans on asking the Legislature to increase the amount of direct distribution funding it provides from $105 million to $125 million in the coming biennium.
In addition to the increase in distribution funding, Miller said WAM will is also pushing lawmakers to allow cities and towns to create local tax options that would bring in additional revenues.
The proposal has been brought forward in several previous sessions and so far been unsuccessful. But with the ongoing dependence Wyoming’s municipalities have on the state’s direct distribution funding, they are anxious to begin creating their own forms of revenue.
One of the consistent criticisms of the plans has been that local tax options would only benefit the larger municipalities in the state. While a city like Sheridan has a large enough tax base to benefit from a local tax, a town like Ranchester does not.
However, Miller said that if Sheridan were generating revenue from a local tax, it would be less likely to apply for state loans and grants, freeing up some of the state funding it currently receives for those smaller municipalities.