Census numbers show Wyoming has third-fastest growth of state, local employees

2014-03-30T12:00:00Z Census numbers show Wyoming has third-fastest growth of state, local employeesBy LAURA HANCOCK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
March 30, 2014 12:00 pm  • 

Despite the recession and a plunge in natural gas prices, the number of Wyoming state and local government employees grew at a faster rate than all but two other states in the nation, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

The 2012 Census of Governments found that in the five years since the last count, the number of full-time equivalent employees in state and local government in Wyoming grew 7.2 percent. Utah had the largest increase, at 8.4 percent, followed by North Dakota at 7.7 percent.

Wyoming bucks a national trend that saw the number of state and local government employees decrease 1.3 percent from the 2007 Census of Governments to 16.2 million in 2012, according to a March 6 Census Bureau statement. However, data from the governor's office on state employment conflicts with the federal figures.

The census' local government data was for counties, cities, townships, special districts and school districts.

Dips in census data

Despite overall growth, some years the size of state and local government decreased, said Wenlin Liu, principal economist with the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division.

In the years between the Census of Governments, the Census Bureau puts out estimates of government employees. In Wyoming, the number of local government employees contracted in 2012 and 2009. The number of state employees contracted in 2010 and 2011.

The economy and tax revenues can explain the contractions, Liu said.

Local governments get most funding from property and sales taxes, he said.

“For the local government decline in 2012, Wyoming had a huge valuation decline in 2009, particularly because of natural gas,” he said.

County governments rely on ad valorem taxes, assessed on the value of natural resources such as gas. The value of gas declined in 2009 to $5.9 billion from the previous year’s $12 billion, Liu said. Valuations and government budgets in which staffing decisions are made lag several years because valuations are based on calendar years, even though Wyoming governments budget for fiscal years. Additionally, companies get time to pay taxes, which means the 2009 valuation ramifications didn’t show up in local governments until 2012, Liu said.

In 2009, dips occurred as sales tax revenues declined. Local governments get sales tax revenues a month after retailers collect them, Liu said, which could explain more immediate staffing changes.

Conflicting state data

For full-time equivalents working for the state, the census data show employee numbers dipping in 2010 and 2011. Numbers are up again in 2012. That’s inconsistent with state data, which show numbers dipping in 2011 and 2012.

Gov. Matt Mead’s spokesman, Renny MacKay, said the governor’s office doesn’t use Census Bureau data. Instead it relies on a report by the Department of Administration and Information.

While the census considers all state employees, the state report only counts people in the executive branch. No employees for the University of Wyoming, community colleges, the courts, the Legislature, boards or commissions and seasonal employees are included.

The state numbers show a decrease in state full-time, part-time and contract employees since 2011, when Mead got into office, MacKay said. The state had to decrease revenues because of natural gas prices

“We’re down 300 employees, but we’re doing more with less,” MacKay said.

There have been no layoffs in state government as result of recent budget cuts, MacKay said. If people retired or quit, they weren’t always replaced.

While the state data shows base salaries decreasing between 2011 and 2012, census data show overall payroll in Wyoming on the rise. Last year, the Legislature approved cuts proposed by Mead of about 6.5 percent in ongoing spending, Mead said.

“The census numbers are not as precise,” MacKay said. “They’re not running off our payroll.”

Census methodology

The census sent out questionnaires and state and local governments answered either through the mail or online, said Erika Becker-Medina, a division chief at the Census Bureau.

In Wyoming, 82.5 percent of the questionnaires were returned from local governments, she said. In the cases where they were not returned, the census imputed the responses, Becker-Medina said. Imputation is the process of filling in missing or invalid data based on 2007 census results or by randomly selecting a similar government, then making adjustments for population growth or student enrollment, in the case of school districts and colleges, she said.

For the state data, the census has a collection agreement with the state, Becker-Medina said. A U.S. census data analyst who worked with Wyoming did not reply to a message for more specifics.

Local-government response

Overall, Wyoming fared well during the recession, said Shelley Simonton, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.

“I think it’s a good thing for Wyoming that we found a way not to tank like other states did,” she said.

But some local governments were affected more than others, she said. Cheyenne never felt much of the recession. While Gillette was booming with high coal prices and coalbed methane production, building permits were down in Teton County, she said.

“Teton County ended up laying off people in the planning department,” she said.

In Capser, the number of full-time employees grew in fiscal years 2007 to 2009. When counting employees, the city uses a fiscal year that spans from July 1 to June 30, said City Manager John Patterson.

Between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the city maintained staffing levels, Patterson said. It contracted in FY2011 and was up again in FY2012.

Patterson said the city’s employment growth was affected by the overall downturn in the economy.

“From 2007 to 2012, basically, they’re flat,” Patterson said.

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