SWEETWATER COUNTY – With a troubling financial outlook for the next couple of years, officials around the state are preparing for a difficult budget session. On Tuesday, Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Wally Johnson wanted to clarify recent media reports and comments made about county employee layoffs.
First, Johnson explained when one commissioner speaks or is interviewed it is not the opinion of the whole commission. He said after recent media reports, commissioners have received calls and have spoken to many concerned employees about possible layoffs.
The state has continues to watch and advise counties of significant drops in budgets across the state. The main decreases being projected is income from mineral tax. The biggest fall off is coming in the oil and gas industry.
Johnson said while they have projections from the state, it is exactly that, a projection. He added that while other counties who rely heavily on the oil and gas industry are going to have a tough budget session, trona and coal have remained stable, which helps take away some of the sting here at home.
“No one really knows what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “When we know what those shortfalls are, we will handle them at that time.”
Other commissioners also spoke on the issue. Commissioner Reid West said what is being projected resembles the same challenges the commission faced in the 2011 budget. West said while it is going to be difficult, the commission has been proactive in preparing.
West explained that over the past several years staff and the commissioners have found places where they could make cuts. According to West, this has led to a significant reduction of the size of county government which should help in the upcoming session and keeping county employees on the job.
“The very last thing I want to see is layoffs,” he expressed.
Johnson added to West’s comments. He said five years ago they focused on reducing the size of government as well as reducing budgets. Johnson said they have been able to save millions of dollars and it was because they were proactive when the economy fell in 2011.
Hiring quality employees was another key to be able to reduce the size of government but continue to provide quality service to residents according to Johnson.
“Our staff is doing a fine job,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Randall Wendling said the one thing he has observed in his time on the commission is how decisions are made with one eye focused on the future. Like West, he also said the last thing he wants to see is county layoffs.
Commissioner Don Van Matre agreed and said he has always said the most valuable asset to a company is the employees. Like Johnson, he said when they get a clearer picture of the actually financial numbers, the commission will sit down and look at all the options.
Along with retaining employees, Van Matre explained one important issue he will remain focused on in the upcoming budget talks is to keep a high standard when it comes to quality of life issues.