From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 34 - November 13, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

County, towns prepare ‘needs lists’ for industry, officials

by Tiffany Turner

Just about anyone living or driving around Sublette County can see the impacts incurred by increased population and traffic.

However, proving the high living costs, potholes, large hotels with no vacancies and other less obvious changes are due to growth is not easy. Convincing state and federal officials that Sublette County needs more money is even harder.

There is a discrepancy between the county and municipalities’ needs in Sublette County and the shortfalls in impact funding for these socioeconomic changes. The county commissioners along with Pinedale, Big Piney and Marbleton town governments have come together with Ecosystem Research Group (ERG), the company completing the large 2007 countywide socioeconomic impact study, to draft a specific list of problems and impacts and prioritize funding needs.

These needs will be voiced to both Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Sen. Mike Enzi and their staffs this week in an attempt to make federal and state governments aware of the specific problems facing the towns and citizens of Sublette County and the county as a whole. The increased population is generally believed to have its roots in the industry boom taking place.

“This is a great opportunity for the three towns and the county,” Commissioner Joel Bousman said.

Bousman explained last year he met with Enzi about his experience with the impacts and planning during Gillette’s boom-and-bust cycles and that he gathered several helpful suggestions. That meeting has evolved into the Governor and Enzi agreeing to meet with the local communities and industry leaders to determine the exact impacts and possible better ideas for solving the current situation.

The governor requested a list of priorities from items affected by the impacts so that funding change could be worked on in an order of importance.

Greg Kennett, county contact with ERG, spoke to the representatives of the four entities at Friday’s commissioners’ meeting about organizing priorities and having all information correct before heading into the meeting with industry and government.

“I think this week would be a great time to do homework,” Kennett said.

Kennett reminded those present that for many of these meetings, the industry has told different organizations and agencies they would help if told specifically what was needed.

“Now is the opportunity for them to step up to the plate,” Kennett added.

The municipalities and county agreed, seeing state and federal funding as a similar situation.

“I think the towns are in a revenue crunch while the county is in an information crunch,” Commissioner John Linn said.

Kennett stated part of the reason for the preliminary meeting was to get facts straight and make sure ERG knew what the major points and concerns are as they put together briefing notebooks for Enzi and Freudenthal.

“The county can show we’re dealing with things the way we are because the state is not doing anything,” Linn added.

Kennett stated all information would be collated and bound for Freudenthal and Enzi and their staff to take with them and to look over at the meeting. Part of this binder would include graphs of the towns’ current capital improvement budget, budget and annual revenues (with past years shown for comparison), which Kennett said he felt would be the strongest tool.

“I think the graphs tell the story,” Kennett said. “It helps them understand the human nature of the impacts.”

Although a conference call was planned and further information was being sought, the four groups voiced their main concerns to ERG to be listed during their portions of the future meeting’s agenda.

The main funding needs due to impacted areas were:

• Marbleton (represented by Councilman Mike Hughes):

1. A new sewer lagoon (DEQ has confirmed old lagoon is obsolete).

2. Fairground needs to be connected to city sewer and water.

3. Airport needs to be connected to sewer and water.

Hughes added an additional concern is the estimated 35 permanent-family increase estimated by Cimarex with the construction and operation of their new Rand’s Butte project. Cimarex told him they planned to be operation by 2010. Hughes added Marbleton would like to be prepared for these families moving to the area rather than have them work in the town and live in a neighboring area.

Big Piney (represented by Mayor Phillip Smith):

1. Repaving of streets.

2. Replacing the town water and sewer as streets are being improved.

3. Monitoring of the groundwater in old landfill.

Smith also added the town hall needs to be enlarged because space was limited.

“Part of it is we haven’t done what we’ve needed to do because of budget constraints,” he added.

Pinedale (represented by Mayor Steve Smith and Councilman Dave Hohl):

1. Comprehensive rehabilitation of water, sewer and streets.

2. EPA-required water system filtration by 2012.

3. Social issues including childcare, air quality, housing and increase in crime.

The third issue, Steve Smith and Hohl said, are countywide problems, although they were also a specific worry of Pinedale.

“It’s a county-wide population issue; it’s kind of a partnership,” Hohl said.

Sublette County (represented by Commissioners John Linn, Joel Bousman and Chair Bill Cramer):

Some areas of concern are the need to expand all county offices, road and bridge projects, property-tax relief, salary increases to keep up with industry pay, quality of emergency and health services.

“Those are the impacts we probably need relief from,” Linn said. “I don’t know how we are going to summarize it into three.”

Cramer agreed, stating there were issues in the past the county had taken care of but the funding is slowing and will one day be gone, and the county needs to be prepared for the future by saving and planning for possible scenarios, as well as undertaking the items already on their list. That, he said, could empty all reserve accounts very quickly.

“There is a long list of things we’ve done on our own and now we’re maybe looking for some help moving forward,” he said.

Laurie Latta, director of the Sublette Community Partnership who works with organizations and individuals to address social issues, also advised Kennett to speak with Rural Health Care CEO Kip Boone as he could raise other impacts arising in the health field countywide.

After learning the major concerns of the different agencies, Kennett advised them to remember as they plan their explanations, they would be speaking to industry on one side and state and federal government on the other. Some things should be stressed differently for the different agencies, he said, but there was a common goal to figure out where to continue forward from and what would make the difference.

“I don’t think we will get to an answer, but we need to keep repeating the question,” Cramer said.

Linn agreed.

“They need to understand that it’s a really, really big impact,” he said. “If the people that live here cannot afford to live here, what other impact matters.”

“The need is there; the money is not,” agreed Bousman. “That’s the case we need to make.

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