County budget message: Employees are the top priority

Chairman Del Shelstad (RJ Morgan/County 17)

With the budget season just around the corner, the Campbell County Commissioners made their message loud and clear what the top priority will be for the fiscal year 2022-2023 at their Jan. 18 meeting. 

“The fiscal year 2022 through 2023 will focus on our employees. The board relies upon, and considers, a recommendation from the compensation committee each year in preparation for a new fiscal budget year. Although a recommendation has not been received, a priority established in the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget will be our most valuable resource, which is our employees,” Commission Chairman Del Shelstad said. 

The commissioners’ budget message did not include any dates or numbers, but it made clear what’s important and it expects numbers to look a lot like the past fiscal year. 

“The board is requesting budgets to remain consistent with the present fiscal year. This will enable the board to focus resources on our established priorities which are our employees, deferred maintenance issues, and necessary construction for the betterment of the community,” Shelstad said. 

In December, commissioners approved an $1,800 bonus for all full-time employees and a prorated amount for part-time staff in January. That one-time payment was to thank employees for their efforts while the county looks for a permanent solution to compensation. 

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“The biggest thing is the focus on employees. Everyone knows about the labor shortage. If you go to businesses, you see all the help wanted signs. County services are provided by our employees, and if we don’t have good employees and don’t take care of them, it’s tough to provide those services. That’s going to be a focus this year,” Commissioner Rusty Bell said. 

Campbell County Human Resource Director Brandy Elder told commissioners the county had 646 employees at the start of 2021, but that number had dropped to 594 by December. She noted it has been several years since a cost-of-living adjustment was implemented, and employees started paying for health insurance premiums. 

“The board will look at the compensation committee to bring forth a recommendation that examines employees’ pay and benefits, how it compares to the current market, climate, and what we can do to improve conditions for our employees,” Shelstad said. “It is still the board’s goal for the departments to continue to carefully examine department’s needs regarding staffing, with an eye to keeping staffing levels constant. In this fashion, the county will be able to maximize our resources and reward those currently employed.” 

The 2021 assessed valuation was $3.39 billion, nearly a billion dollars less than in 2020 which was $4.24 billion. Commissioners are expecting it to be around the same this year and hoping that it will be closer to the $4-billion mark. 

The county, which operated on a $109-million budget last year, had departments shave about 10% from its operations. The biggest hits were to human resources, County Attorney’s office, parks and recreation, public works, libraries and the sheriff’s office. 

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“It’s too early to confidently arrive at a projected assessed valuation for Campbell County for the fiscal year 2022-2023. However, in preparation for budgets, it appears a projected assessed valuation compared to the current fiscal year, if not slightly higher, is realistic,” Shelstad said. “The board was pleased with the department budgets submitted the last budget. Each department took it upon themselves to take a hard look at operating capital of construction requests as well as carefully examined personal needs in departments.” 

Second on the list of priorities for the new fiscal year is capital construction. The board will focus on addressing maintenance that was deferred because of budget cuts last year.  

Shelstad said the goal will be to keep the current facilities in as good of condition as possible. He noted there are several projects anticipated that will impact the county’s budget, among them are the partial remodel of the courthouse, improvements at Bicentennial Park, the development of Pronghorn Industrial Park, facilitate the International Camporee event in 2024, and the courthouse annex building across the street (formerly known as the Cloud Peak building) to make room for another judge. 

“The legislature will be hopefully approving the addition of a fourth 6th Judicial District Judge. To accommodate this addition, facilities need to be created on the second floor of the courthouse. This will necessitate some county operations to move the space and the annex, and this work is currently in the planning stages,” Shelstad said.