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City scrutinizes service providers

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Michael Alexander, NLJ Reporter

At its April 29 budget workshop, the Newcastle City Council managed to balance the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year by keeping most service provider budgets flat, slightly increasing a few and significantly cutting one.

According to City Clerk Stacy Haggerty, the city supports service providers with 1% sales tax funds. She informed the News Letter Journal that “thus far in fiscal year 2024 (the city has) received $714,993.33 in 1% sales tax funds.” She also said that “$253,500 of that amount was budgeted for the service providers.”

While multiple service providers requested an increase in funds from the city, only a few of the increases were approved. Weston County Health Services Home Health’s request for an increase from $7,000 to $8,000 was honored. So, too, was Northern Wyoming Mental Health’s request for a bump from $6,500 to $10,000. And Campbell County Health Emergency Medical Services also received its requested amount for an increase from $100,000 to $103,500.

These increases were approved after council members weighed the importance of the respective services, as well as the impact of inflation on operating costs of the providers. When the home health provider was brought up for consideration, council member Tyrel Owens quickly asserted that “it’s a very valuable service for our community.”

During consideration of the mental health provider’s budget, Police Chief Derek Thompson advised the council against a cut, stating that a resident suffering from a mental health problem is “one of the No. 1 things [the police] encounter.” And, during discussion of the ambulance service, council member Ann McColley said, “We have to have it. That’s all there is to it.”

Despite these increases, council members repeatedly espoused the need for cuts.

“We’re here to cut budgets!” council member Tom Voss proclaimed at one point.

Upon a mention that the council would be pulling about $1 million from its reserve account to balance the budget, council member Daren Downs posed a question.

“When you have to pull from reserves, doesn’t that mean cuts?” he asked. However, as pointed out by Council President Don Steveson, and later clarified by Haggerty, the city has pulled this amount from reserves in each of the past few years to balance the budget, but has yet to actually spend those reserve funds. The council did decide to cut one service provider’s budget, and that provider is the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce.

In stark contrast to the discussion about the service providers whose budgets were increased, the council’s commentary on the chamber was critical. Board members expressed frustration over what they claimed is the chamber’s lack of improvement.

Mayor Pam Gualtieri underscored the point.

“We’ve given them time after time after time, board after board after board,” she said.

Voss proposed cutting the chamber’s budget in half, from $10,000 to $5,000. Owens, who was initially hesitant to cut the chamber’s budget by 50%, eventually joined with the rest of the council when council members learned that the chamber neglects to hold a chamber coffee event. The council gave the chamber credit for putting on the summertime pig wrestling event and for holding its annual banquet but struggled to identify other events that would justify the organization’s budget request.

The council also took issue with the chamber receiving funds from the recreation board. For instance, one line item in the rec board’s budget was $1,500 for the chamber for the Fourth of July fireworks display, which the chamber finances. The council delegated to its board committee the task of telling the rec board to avoid such “double-dipping” by providing city funds to other service providers that already receive city funds.

Council members expressed similar concern during discussion of the rec board’s budget.

According to rec board member Misty Harrington, the board’s significantly increased budget request reflects what community members have asked for. For the upcoming fiscal year, the rec board asked the city for $69,400. This amount was rejected by the council, which opted instead to allot the same $38,000 amount granted for fiscal 2024.

While going through the rec board’s 2023-24 expenditures, the council realized that the rec board had provided funds for a number of school events, such as a photo booth at this year’s prom and $1,500 for the high school’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America organization.

“We all pay property taxes, and those go towards the school,” council member Daren Downs remarked.

McColley added that such events “are good to have, but I don’t think it should be us paying for it.”

Moreover, the council’s ability to balance this year’s budget was, in part, attributed to the fiscal responsibility of Haggerty, Thompson and Greg Stumpff, the city’s public works supervisor. Thompson’s decision to not fill an eighth officer position and Stumpff’s move to downscale next year’s chip seal project were cited as examples of city efforts to control spending.

City Beats

Notes from the May 6, 2024, meeting of the Newcastle City Council

• Lynn Kendall, community affairs manager with Black Hills Energy, met with the council to discuss the business’ franchise agreement. The discussion was tabled until more information could be provided. A meeting was scheduled for May 20.

• The council approved electrical licenses for master electrician Brian K. Swan and apprentice Nathan T. Baker, with Howard White Electrical. The council approved an HVAC limited mechanical plumbing license for limited mechanical plumber David Grezch with CMS/NexTech. The council approved one electrical license for Allen Ainsworth Clark with NexTech/Ace Electrical.

• Summer sewer averaging was approved for Weston County School District No. 1. The council denied sewer forgiveness for Laura Janis, citing issues and concerns regarding the condition of the leak and the account.

• City Clerk-Treasurer Stacy Haggerty informed the council that the Local Government Liability Pool does not provide coverage for breach of contract. The question was asked in reference to a judgment against UBC Precast by the city for nondelivery of the Dow Park restrooms. The total amount of the judgment is $48,189.10, according to Haggerty.

• Following a suggestion from Councilman Tom Voss, the council approved the donation of a roll-off container to the Weston County Senior Center for two weeks.

• The council approved the recommendation to use Engineering Associates as the engineering firm for the 2025 improvement projects.

• At the request of City Attorney Dublin Hughes, the council approved a day increase for Hughes Law Office. The firm will now receive $4,500 instead of $3,500 a month for legal services provided to the city. According to Hughes, the firm bills out an average of $4,600 in work a month for the city.

• According to Newcastle Police Chief Derek Thompson, the city no longer employs dispatchers. As of May 1, the dispatchers for the city, Upton and county are employed by the joint powers board. The council approved the lease agreement for the City of Newcastle, Town of Upton and Weston County, Wyoming Combined Dispatch Joint Powers Board. The lease will begin June 1.

• The council approved an hourly rate increase for Thompson to $37.24. He previously made $34.96. It was noted that the pay increase is for his years of service and degree.

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