Teton County is eyeing a roughly $20 million spending increase for the upcoming fiscal year, hoping to put the bulk of that money toward a suite of capital projects.
The money is coming from a projected $30 million surplus resulting from both better-than-projected sales tax revenue and unused funds from previous years. In total, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners is looking at spending roughly $64 million from the county’s general fund.
A spending plan of that magnitude, if approved, would chart a roughly 49% increase from the $43 million general fund budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in June. It would also be up about 42% from the prior fiscal year’s spending plan. That period ended in June 2020.
The majority of the additional $20 million is slated to be spent on capital projects.
Among other things and in approximate numbers, those line items include $90,000 for budgeting software for the Teton County Clerk, $500,000 for water quality planning, $1.1 million for work on Spring Gulch Road, and $3.7 million for property acquisition.
Commissioner Mark Barron said you can’t look at the increase “without considering the pandemic.”
Most of the town and county’s cuts in the past year, he said, came from capital projects.
“When you’re looking at those numbers in a vacuum, then, yes, it does look like a huge spend,” Barron said. But, he added, “a lot of those projects are still on the burner from previous years. And I think it’s our responsibility to take care of some of the infrastructure in this community.”
Teton County Treasurer Katie Smits, the elected official responsible for collecting the county’s coin, called the proposed spike in spending an “anomaly.”
“I don’t know when we’re going to have this kind of fund balance again,” Smits said. “It’s a one-time thing.”
She added that the proposed move is largely due to the county’s better-than-expected revenue performance in the past year.
Commissioners approve how much the county government spends in a given fiscal year, and the board is in the process of finalizing its budget for the 2022 fiscal year.
That spending period starts in July, and the commission will meet June 29 to approve the budget.
In the next 20-some days, the public can weigh in on the county’s proposed spending plan, which Teton County Clerk Maureen Murphy published online at TetonCountyWY.gov in the last week. A high-level overview of the budget ran in the legal section of last week’s News&Guide, and a PDF of the budget document is attached to the online version of this article at JHNewsAndGuide.com.
How the county is set to end up with roughly $30 million on-hand requires looking back at past years, and the wonky pandemic-driven fiscal year that Jackson Hole is emerging from.
Smits compared the general fund balance to the balance everyday people can accrue in their checking account if they make more money than they spend.
The county, the treasurer said, has been bringing in slightly more money than it plans to for some time, thanks in part to conservative projections of sales tax revenue.
By estimating lower revenues, and planning to spend accordingly, the county has often ended up with a surplus, where its revenues exceed its expenses. And that surplus has accrued over the years, Smits said.
Then, in the past fiscal year, which spanned the pandemic’s fiscal uncertainties, that balance grew significantly because of how county commissioners budgeted and how the county’s economy worked.
The board, along with the Jackson Town Council, estimated a 50% decline in sales tax revenue, which underpins a significant portion of the budget.
But tourism, economic activity and sales tax collections all outpaced expectations. By the end of March 2021, Teton County’s sales tax collections were up 7% compared to the same period in the prior fiscal year. And a lifeline of CARES Act funds had come through. Those two factors gave the county an estimated $10 million extra to work with, with about half of that total coming from each source, Smits said. Another $20 million or so in fund balance from years past brought that number to the $30 million in question.
Smits and Murphy accordingly presented the commission with two options in a past budget discussion. One was to take advantage of a $30 million balance in the general fund and make up for capital spending — improving facilities, replacing vehicles, and the like — that it didn’t budget for in the past fiscal year because of pandemic-driven uncertainties. The other was to spend at a more normal level.
The commission decided to spend.
Of the $30 million surplus, roughly $16 million will be dedicated to capital projects. Another $10 million will be put into a new capital fund, effectively diverting that sum from the general fund.
The remaining $4 million or so will stay in the general fund.
Those numbers are not final because the budget is not approved and will not be until June 29, when the commission sits down for its formal budget hearing.
In the meantime, members of the public can review the budget (the list of proposed capital projects starts on page 53 of the PDF) and send the commission public comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.