Town finalizes FY21 budget after deep cuts

JACKSON, Wyo. — Jackson’s Town Council approved a final draft of the town’s budget for the fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1.

After more than ten hours of meetings and in-depth discussion about different possibilities, the council reached consensus on various cuts to create a balanced budget for the coming year. Discussions focused on the expected loss of revenue due to COVID-19 as well as the challenge of ever-increasing services and costs for providing them, a reality the town faced before the pandemic arrived.

Reductions in the budget include a decrease in capital expenditures and substantial reductions in departments and core programs services below FY20 levels. The largest decreases are in Fire/EMS (-13%), Police (-16%), Public Works (-23%), and START Bus (-14%). Layoffs have been avoided thus far, but some open positions will not be hired, and salaries are currently frozen.

Significant cuts were made to balance a projected 50% ($7.5 million) downturn in sales and lodging tax in the coming year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the weeks since staff presented a first draft, council worked through the budget line-by-line to understand and reach consensus about priorities.

While the budget’s initial draft proposed funding social services below requested amounts, town councilors were unanimous in agreeing these organizations provide services that are a priority now more than ever and fully funded their requests.

“The safety net the caring sector provides our community is facing increased demand for services as repercussions from the pandemic begin to appear. We all felt the need to prioritize funding there,” said Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson.

In order to fully fund the council’s priorities and balance the budget, the town will utilize funds from its reserve account. Reserves will cover expenses in the near-term, but the upcoming budget presents a one-time fix, so alternative solutions will be needed going forward.

Councilmember Arne Jorgensen noted, “At our retreat in January we talked about the need for more revenue. COVID came along and changed quite a lot, but that underlying need has not shifted. It has only increased. I look at the use of the reserve funds as a buffer. We are in extremely anxious times and having these savings to use is a buffer against that anxiety, but it is a short-term solution. My sense is that, for the longer-term, adding an additional cent of sales tax is a necessity.”

The town council is expected to formally adopt the budget at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, June 15. With so many unknowns in terms of revenue, the town council has requested that staff provide regular budget updates throughout the year as the economy continues to stabilize and recover.

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