SHERIDAN — Late last week, several city officials from Sheridan and Dayton traveled to Cheyenne for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities Winter Workshop and opportunities to meet with legislators.
Councilman Alex Lee said highlights from his time at WAM included “cracker barrel” discussions with leaders from similarly-sized cities about issues they have faced and overcome. He said it was key to him to learn from people in his shoes.
In one round table discussion, the topic turned to pension plans and negotiations with the firefighter’s union on wages for firefighters.
Lee said it was interesting to him that Rock Springs is currently struggling to work through arbitration while going into budget season, which creates uncertainty on how to budget, just like Sheridan.
“Because of the way the state statute is written and the timeline from which we prepare a budget and move forward, all of these things come together and makes it tight. If we do find a disagreement and can’t come to an agreement with the union, we must try to budget with arbitration hanging over our head, and we don’t know what’s coming out of that,” Lee said. “You just do the best you can and try to treat everyone the best you can. You can’t just think about one department; you must think about all of them and do the best you can.”
Lee also said he enjoyed the time to present Sheridan’s needs to Sheridan County representatives and senators. He said he is learning the value of networking with legislators throughout the year.
Mayor Dave Kinskey said his highlight from the WAM Winter Workshop was being able to get to know the organization’s new director.
Shelley Simonton was appointed as executive director of WAM after long-time director George Parks retired.
“She’s a dynamo. She’s energetic. She’s very strong on building the right kind of relationships,” Kinskey said.
“I think there’s a whole new look and feel that she brings to the table. She is harnessing the local elected officials to speak directly with legislators about matters of concern. They did that in the past, but not to the extent that Shelley is willing to do that.”
Kinskey also noted how keenly cities and towns were watching the budget as it moved through the House and Senate.
At one point, the Joint Appropriations Committee had proposed pulling funds from Payment in Lieu of Taxes from the distribution to local governments, cutting the overall distribution from $175 million to $150 million. It was also proposed to alter the budget distribution to favor larger cities over smaller cities, Kinskey said, which he did not support.
“My view in all that discussion is, this is a governor who’s been good to local government. We don’t make a move without talking to the governor. And Shelley led a small delegation to see the governor and said, ‘This is where we are; this is what’s happening in the Legislature. Do we compromise, what do we do?’ And the governor said, ‘Stand firm. Stand on my budget,’” Kinskey said. “That’s the right answer; that’s what we did.”
Kinskey said Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, and Sen. John Schiffer, floor managed amendments to the budget to restore Gov. Matt Mead’s recommended distribution to local governments of $175 million over the two-year biennium to begin July 1, 2014.
Kinskey said he also enjoyed huddling with other officials from northeast Wyoming. He said continued efforts will be made to work together with cities and counties in northeast Wyoming on collaborative projects for the benefit of all involved.
Dayton Mayor Bob Wood said he most enjoyed watching House Bill 47, which will enable municipalities to apply for state funds to build natural gas pipelines, move through the House and Senate while he was in Cheyenne.
Monday, the bill passed third reading in the Senate and was returned to the House of Representatives to concur on a Senate amendment. The House concurred, and the bill has been approved.