Newly elected Natrona County Assessor Matt Keating wants county leaders to give him the money to hire 11 additional employees, more than doubling the size of his office in the process.
But the Natrona County Commission, of which Keating was a member until stepping down recently, rebuffed the request.
While Keating said the expansion is needed for his office, which now employs 10 people, to complete its mission, Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry said Wednesday that the request is infeasible.
“We don’t have the budget to give him any more money for people,” Hendry said.
Wyoming took a hard hit when energy prices sank a few years ago, as taxes on industry provide much of the state’s revenue. Many local governments, like Natrona County, have yet to fully recover.
Even if the money was available, Hendry said that the commissioners likely wouldn’t be interested in growing the government.
Hendry said the assessor’s office budget allowed for up to 15 employees. But Keating gave raises to his current staff members and no longer has any money left to hire new workers, according to the commissioner.
“We have always been OK with the 15 (employees), but he went through his budget,” Hendry said.
Keating made the request for new employees at a commissioners’ work session last month. He said the office had been neglected in recent years.
“We are unable to ensure data quality,” Keating said Wednesday. “… Our data isn’t up to date, which has been a tremendous issue.”
Keating then suggested using 1-cent sales tax money to pay for it.
The optional sales tax, which must pass a public vote every four years, sends one penny of every dollar spent in Natrona County to local governments. It’s intended for infrastructure uses, like repairing roads, purchasing police equipment or building new fire stations.
On an audio recording from the work session, one of the commissioners can be heard quickly shooting Keating’s idea down.
“We are not going to spend 1-cent on wages,” he said. “That is for capital improvements only.”
Other commissions offered similar reactions. But Keating said Wednesday that he plans to continue pushing for more money to expand his office.
“I think it was a reasonable (thing to) ask,” he said, explaining that the assessor’s office in Laramie County has 21 employees.
The assessor’s office in each county is responsible for providing citizens with property assessments that comply with the statutory requirements established by the state.
According to Keating, the Department of Revenue requires every assessor’s office to physically inspect each property within their jurisdiction every six years. He said his office needs more staff members in order to properly comply with that rule.
As for giving his employees raises, Keating said he has no regrets. The assessor said many employees in Natrona County are underpaid.
“I would do it again,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”
Keating stepped down as a county commissioner last month to assume the assessor’s role.
On Saturday, the Natrona County Republican Party will select three candidates to potentially replace Keating.
The Natrona County Commissioners will then select the new commissioner after interviewing each candidate on Feb. 19.