From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 46 - February 12, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

PDR lawsuit filed

by Cat Urbigkit

On Friday, Sublette County resident Bob Harrower sued Sublette County and its commissioners asserting that their adoption of a plan to purchase so-called land development rights violates the Wyoming Constitution and two state statutes.

Robert A. Harrower of Pinedale asserts in his lawsuit, which was filed in Wyoming State District Court, that Sublette County receives no benefit for its purchase of such rights contrary to the Wyoming Constitution and that the commissioners adopted the ordinance without complying with Wyoming statutes that restrict land purchases by county governments and that require public notice on planned agenda items.

"Mr. Harrower is demanding what all Wyoming citizens and taxpayers have a right to demand, that is that local governments adhere strictly to the commands of the Wyoming Constitution and provisions of state law," said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represents Harrower. "Sublette County will not be using the property it plans to purchase nor will the county receive a benefit from its purchases. Finally, Sublette County failed to notify local residents and taxpayers of its plans."

On May 6, 2003, the Sublette County Commission voted 2 to 1 in favor of spending $500,000 to fund the purchase of development rights (PDRs) to "[c]onserve and protect wildlife and critical migration corridors, conserve and protect...natural, scenic and other community values, ... reduce growth pressures in rural areas that result in the need for future public expenditures for County infrastructure and services; and utilize PDR[s] as a land protection technique and leverage other funds for purchase."

On Sept. 18, 2003, Sublette County advertised that it was taking applications for the County's PDR program through May 31, 2004, and that public access was not a necessary condition to the county's purchase.

Wyoming's Constitution bars counties from "mak[ing] donations to or in aid of any individual, association or corporation, except for necessary support of the poor." Thus, a county is prohibited generally from expending money in favor of a private or non-profit entity, unless it receives a service, product or other adequate consideration in return for its outlay of money. Harrower believes that Sublette County receives no benefit from the PDRs and hence expenditure of funds for PDRs is unconstitutional.

In addition, a Wyoming statute limits the purchase of property by counties to land "for use of the county," which will not be the case with the land rights to be purchased. Harrower also asserts that Sublette County's action violates Wyoming's Public Meetings Act because notice of its planned action did not appear on the county's agenda prior to the meeting.

Mountain States Legal Foundation is a nonprofit, public interest legal center dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area.

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