However concerns about the future of Secure Rural Schools payments and jail space remain

As Crook County emerges from the recent recession that prompted deep cuts in personnel and services, their latest budget includes some modest and welcome additions.

In anticipation of a 6 to 7 percent bump in property tax revenue, the county budget committee recently approved a $12,400,735 general fund budget.

“It is on the trend of moving back up again,” said Crook County Treasurer Kathy Gray, regarding property tax revenue.

The approximately $660,000 increase will enable them to add back some public safety staff.

“We did (add) a little bit in the (Crook County) Sheriff’s Office,” said Commissioner Ken Fahlgren, “because they lost three people over the last four years. We are going to add back one in patrol and we are going to add back one in the secretarial office, mostly because they have had such an increase in their concealed weapon licensing.”

Gray added that the workload at the sheriff’s office has increased due to the recent uptick in foreclosures.

The committee-approved county budget is built upon a slightly smaller beginning balance in the general fund. This year, they are carrying over $1.93 million as opposed to $2.029 million in 2013. However, expected increases in transient tax and property tax revenue, as well as reimbursed revenue and state grant dollars, have more than made up for the difference.

The largest general fund expenditure increases were personnel services, which increased about $440,000, and materials and services, which went up about $180,000 from the previous year.

Overall, county officials seem pleased with their current financial state and remain cautiously optimistic that they will see continued improvement.

“It is looking better,” Gray said.

Fahlgren agreed, saying there are little windows of sunshine as the county moves forward. He pinned some of the improvement on the recent growth of Brasada Ranch.

“Brasada is growing quickly and they just outpaced most of what Crook County looks like,” he said. “It’s an outside population that brings in new money.”

While the budget is prompting more optimism than it has in recent years, the county still faces ongoing challenges. For example, the Secure Rural Schools payments that the county relies on to help fund their road department continue to hang by a thread. Congress has continued to reauthorize the payments each year, but they continue to decline at a rate of about 5 percent each year.

“Looking long-term, we know that at this rate, we will be depleting our (approximately $20 million) road savings,” Fahlgren said.

In addition, the county is still looking for the best solution to its jail bed issue.

“When you are arresting the same people over and over, and they are not going to jail, they are being matrixed out, that is a very frustrating part of our work,” Fahlgren said. “We need to find a way to support a jail.”

Now that the budget committee has approved the county budget, it will receive a hearing during the June 4 county court meeting. Commissioners may decrease any fund it chooses, but can only increase funds by $5,000 or 10 percent, whichever is highest.

County officials then hope to adopt the budget during their following June 18 meeting.

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