Volume 8, Number 31 - October 23, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Growth, taxes on voters’ minds
It was a quick hour.
More than 50 citizens listened to the county and statewide candidates discuss the issues Monday in the Lovatt Room of the Pinedale Library.
The forum, organized by the Wyoming Conservation Voters Education Fund, offered citizens an opportunity to ask the candidates direct questions.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of audience questions were about the area’s natural gas development.
House District 22 candidates Charles Stough and Jim Roscoe are running for a seat to be vacated by Monte Olson. Both men were cautiously optimistic about the area’s future.
Roscoe stressed the need to promote ranching, outfitting and recreation as a way to pave an economic base beyond the natural-gas boom years.
“I don’t think the general public understands the value of ranching to everybody,” he said. “It’s open space, wildlife habitat, it’s clean sources of water. … I think if we could help out ranching, it could help us all.”
Calling Sublette County the economic “bright spot in the North American continent,” Stough said the area is very blessed but also very challenged.
“We need a balance of economic diversity, not strictly extractive,” he said. “We need to support our ranching economies, our outdoor tourism economies and other components that will make us strong.”
Both candidates recognized a need to create alliances with other western Wyoming communities in an attempt to bolster political support in Cheyenne for property-tax relief. Because much of eastern Wyoming’s property taxes are not skyrocketing, few legislators from that area are enthusiastic to support legislation that offers western Wyoming residents tax relief.
Sublette County’s ephemeral boom cycle was also on the audience’s mind. One question asked of the candidates was what’s going to happen when the boom is over.
Stough talked about a recent drive through Jeffrey City where a uranium boom in the 1980s sparked wild economic growth.
“You look at the houses and the beautiful school that they built there and you realize that was a one-economy town where after they stopped mining uranium, there was nothing to sustain the tax base there,” he said. “What we need to do is everything we possibly can do to encourage economic diversity in our communities.”
Roscoe said careful planning and disciplined growth would shield the area from a traumatic bust cycle.
He said new public facilities should only be built if a maintenance fund is included in the project saying, “Buildings just shouldn’t be built without that because it could devastate the community to have to heat and maintain these buildings (after the boom).”
Both men supported more local control over oil and gas development. Roscoe mentioned amending the Industrial Facilities Siting Act to include oil and gas production, saying he did not want to slow development down but he wanted communities to be furnished better information about the development.
Stough agreed that the state should have much more control over development but he warned, “If it’s not well planned and thought out, it could be disastrous to the gas industry.”
Both men supported after-school programs although Stough specifically addressed opposition to state-run day care by saying, “I don’t believe the state should be in competition with private business.”
The two men differed on the county’s 1-percent special tax referendum. Stough indicated that philanthropic donations should fund the projects, while Roscoe supported the tax.
Running unopposed in State Senate District 16, Dan Dockstader also participated in the forum.
Dockstader offered to visit with his constituents at home to explain what’s going on in Cheyenne, saying, “I love to travel.”
He also offered to show citizens three separate pieces of legislation that would change the state’s constitution to allow for property-tax relief.
“We are lacking the support we need on these bills at this time,” he said.
County Commissioner John Linn and his Democratic opponent Courtney Skinner were asked questions that were virtual carbon copies of those posed to statewide candidates.
Linn said his 30 years of experience owning a business in Sublette County and his tenure on the commission gave him the experience to fill another term.
Skinner said his world travels, academic experiences and connection with the county should land him a spot on the commission. He also mentioned his two previous unsuccessful campaigns for commissioner.
On the topic of booms and busts, Skinner said fiscal conservatism is important and he felt the commission was doing a good job “putting away funds for a rainy day.”
But he felt new facilities should encourage new business.
“If we build these they must generate a different source of income,” he said. “The thinking of new ideas and new things will keep that funding going and certainly returning to part of our heritage will keep those funds going as well.”
Linn said the problem with putting away money is the rest of the state will want a portion of it.
He said the county must be cautious of building new structures, citing the courthouse’s $10,000 January heating bill.
“We’re talking about studies for new jails and justice centers,” he said. “It all kind of spooks me a bit.”
The two agreed that the county should have better communication with federal agencies to mitigate problems caused by the energy industry’s presence.
Skinner grouped social and economic issues with air- and water-quality issues saying, “It’s compounding day after day,” and, “These problems can be solved by coming back to a balance.”
He advocated a stronger stance regarding government agencies, particularly the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Skinner said the county should be allowed a stronger seat at the table regarding the county’s role in the oil and gas development.
Skinner also advocated expanding the commission to five commissioners instead of three.
While Linn didn’t mention expanding the commission, he did agree with many of Skinner’s points.
“The reason we are in the situation we are is because we’re in the react mode; we’ve never known how many wells they’re going to drill, we’ve never known how much air quality issues we have to deal with, we’ve never known how many roads are going to be impacted,” he said.
“Now with the Anticline ROD being signed, we’re finally getting the information that we need.”
Saying the BLM has been slow in giving the county direction, Linn said amending the Industrial Siting Act would provide the county with a better seat at the table.
“It’s our best shot at getting the impacts predetermined for the county.”
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