ROCK SPRINGS — During the State of the City address given by Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo at the Rock Springs Chamber luncheon Thursday, the Mayor said the city is “stable.”
“The state of the city is stable. I’m not going to say bad and I’m not going to say good, but it is stable,” Mayor Kaumo said.
He said the reason it’s stable it due to a qualified and capable group of city leaders and employees who have made good decisions. However, Mayor Kaumo made sure to let residents know what the city will be facing this budget year as well as upcoming years.
Kaumo said the financial predicament of the city is going into this fiscal year is going “to be a bumpy ride.” However, last year the city was able to cut about $7 million out of its budget by cutting capital improvement projects, such as roads, streets, sewer and other projects that were planned.
“That’s unfortunate because we saved for many years for those projects and then have to turn around and cut those projects,” Kaumo said.
By state statute the city has to keep three months of reserves so it cannot take more than that out. Kaumo said the city doesn’t want to continue pulling money out of reserves to balance the budget anyway.
He said sales tax is the No. 1 source of revenue so when businesses close or are struggling, it decreases the state’s and city’s revenue. Kaumo said oil, gas and coal continue to struggle and on top of that the COVID-19 pandemic caused even more businesses to suffer. While all of this is all going on, there are legislators who are still committed to the “no new taxes” pledge they took. If the Legislature is going to continue to cut, it must find a way to generate revenue.
The city of Rock Springs received its sales and use tax payment in March of about $1.19 million, which is a 45 percent decrease since what they received in March of 2019. Year to date, the city has received about 20 to 25 percent less money than last year. With this in mind, Mayor Kaumo is asking all departments and city funded organizations to decrease their budget requests by 30 percent.
Mayor Kaumo said the city is also watching House Bill 50 closely. This bill will decrease funding to cities, towns and counties from $105 million to $99 million. This fund was already cut back from $135 million to $105 million in the past. He said this funding is divided up among 99 communities.
“That’s not a lot of money to run your city,” Mayor Kaumo said. “That’s very concerning.”
Mayor Kaumo said the city has also been presented with trying to help fund the county’s ambulance service. The city’s portion would be about $427,000 a year. He said this would not solve the ambulance service problem. They need to find out “What does it take to run an ambulance service?”
With everything facing the city, he said the city cannot wait on the state for funding, it has to create up a revenue source on its own.
As for alternate revenue, Mayor Kaumo said they have been given permission by the state for a seventh penny tax. However, no other county in the state has ever done this, so Sweetwater County would act at the “guinea pig” for this. He said this tax would be used for general obligations and to continue supporting services in the community. It would be voted on every four years.
He said the county will probably also go forth with the special-purpose, sixth-penny tax as well. This will be used on infrastructure improvements, such as street, water, and sewer improvements. This tax has been utilized before.
Mayor Kaumo said he believes a proposal for special taxing districts for ambulance, fire, combined communications, and airport services may also come forward. He said residents will be deciding what services they want to pay for to continue.
Projects in the Works
Mayor Kaumo said he wanted to speak to a few projects in works that the city has been pursuing funding for and obtained. He said a lot of these projects the city pursued funding for years ago and are just now receiving the funding, which is specifically designated for those projects, including the First Security Bank, Bitter Creek Reclamation Project, the new interchange on the old Gookin bridge, and the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport commercial terminal.
He said the funding for these projects is mainly coming from grants and can only be used for them. The city can’t take money designated for these projects and use it for something else.
When the $6 million First Security Bank project, which is taking place now, is completed it will be sold to a private owner.
As for the Bitter Creek project they are currently in phase one of this multi-phased project. By the end of the project, the goal is to remove downtown residents and businesses out of a flood plain. This will open up a lot of land around the creek and hopefully eliminate the flood insurance costs for those in that flood plain. The channel will be deferred.
As for the airport, the goal is to get water to both the airport and a proposed industrial park so development can take place near the airport. The airport just received a $3 million grant to modernize the commercial terminal. This project will cost about $18.6 million. This $3 million grant is the last piece they needed to get the project going.
With all of these projects taking place, Kaumo is hopeful about the possibilities they can bring to Rock Springs and Sweetwater County when they are finished.