Senior Center Request Highlights County Funding Stances and Revenue Concerns

Senior Center Request Highlights County Funding Stances and Revenue Concerns

SWEETWATER COUNTY  – A request for funding from a new nonprofit organization in Farson has the Sweetwater County commissioners talking about if the county should deny requests for funding from new nonprofit organizations or if they should grant it.

Representatives of Farson Eden Senior Services approached the commissioners Tuesday seeking startup funding and potentially recurring funding to help establish a senior center in the Farson-Eden area. According to Executive Director Tiffany Thoman, the nonprofit was established in January after the Wyoming Department of Health’s Aging Division reached out to volunteers in the area. A private donor did provide funding to pay for once-a-month-meals for people aged 60 and older, but she said that funding has run out.

The organization has received service grants amounting to $100,000 to provide meals and services for seniors, but lacks the seed funding to start operations as the grants will reimburse costs, but not award an initial lump sum to pay for them. Thoman said the organization is expecting a donation from Jonah Energy in the coming weeks, but is unsure of how much that donation will amount to. She asked for $50,000 in startup funding with the option to seek additional funds from the county.

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For the commissioners however, the upcoming fiscal year is looking to be leaner than the current one. Between political statements of wanting to cut nonprofits off of county funds and misconceptions about upcoming industrial projects already providing the county with tax revenue, there isn’t a lot of support for funding the organization. However, the county does provides funding to both Golden Hour Senior Center in Green River and Young at Heart in Rock Springs.

Commissioner Island Richards voiced opposition to the request, saying he doesn’t want to give new nonprofits county funds, mentioning he would rather start weaning nonprofits off of those tax dollars. While he admits he wishes the county had the money to provide for those organizations, the county doesn’t have much money to go around. He said each dollar the county has is sought after by a multitude of organizations and if the commissioners start giving funds to nonprofits, more will line up to seek county funds. He also notes that services provided outside of the main communities of Rock Springs and Green River are more expensive than they are within the two cities.

“And while every one of those nonprofits is commendable and does good work, the policy question is do we fund those nonprofits with tax dollars,” Richards said. “I ran on the position that, no, I don’t think it’s appropriate in very many places to fund nonprofits with tax dollars.”

Rob Slaughter agrees with Richards’ assessment of the situation, and agrees with the stance that the county should not provide funding to new nonprofits. Slaughter said people believe the county is already seeing increased revenue from Project West and Pacific Soda, but said the tax funds from those projects haven’t been generated yet. Slaughter, who is the commissioners’ liaison to Golden Hour’s board, said he’s aware of what a center can provide for seniors. 

“It’s been amazing to me to see the vitality of the senior group as I interact with them,” Slaughter said. 

While he applauds the effort being put into Farson Eden Senior Services, he said one of the commitments the commissioners made last year is that the county wouldn’t fund new entities seeking funding from the county. He called the organization a positive endeavor and believes its something the county needs to look at, though he wasn’t willing to make a decision that day.

“We’ll see where we go with it,” he said.

Commissioner Mary Thoman disagrees with the stance that the county should not fund the center. The commissioners opted not to act on the request, but she said she would fight for funding to the Farson Eden Senior Services group, saying she would entertain cutting funds to the other two senior centers to help fund a third and base that funding on the number of people served. She said the county already funds senior services and doesn’t view the organization as a new program. She did recommend the group contact entities like Rocky Mountain Power, which she said has done a lot for community organizations.

“These are tough,” Chairman Keaton West said. “There’s a lot of what we classify as ‘outside agencies’ that do tremendous things for the county. It’s just, at some point in time we have to gauge where we stop.”

West said it would be out of place for the commissioners to act on the request because they’re not sure where county funding will end up for the 2024-2025 budget year. 

No action was taken, but the groups agreed to continue discussions.