Volume 105, Number 46 - November 13, 2008
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Governor will hear energy, county officials in Pinedale
Top town officials from the three incorporated towns met with the Sublette County Commission during its Friday meeting to prepare for a special meeting to be hosted by Gov. Dave Freudenthal this Friday morning at 9 a.m. at the Sublette County Library.
Freudenthal, U.S Senator Mike Enzi, officials from BP, EnCana, Shell, Questar and Ultra, Commissioner Joel Bousman and an at least one official representing Big Piney, Marbleton and Pinedale are expected to be present.
“As I understand, the governor wants to hear from the three towns and the county,” Bousman said.
The towns and the county are being asked to assess priority needs and present them during the meeting. Freudenthal will then look to lobby on behalf of those needs at the state level.
“He will encourage his State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) to address a certain amount of those needs,” Bousman said.
SLIB receives a certain amount of money from Federal Mineral Royalties and is often in charge of bringing that money back to impacted areas.
The meeting is also seen as an opportunity to exert pressure on high ranking energy officials.
It is a “real opportunity for the towns and the county to sit down” with these officials, Bousman added.
The Economic Research Group (ERG) has also been working with local officials in helping pinpoint needs that come from energy impact. Senior Environmental Scientist Gregory Kennett of ERG is expected to help facilitate the meeting.
“The real power [in accomplishing goals in this meeting] is [with] local [input],” Kennett said.
He warned that money from the energy industry would eventually decrease while most other county and town expense would continue to increase.
“The industry [essentially] just said, ‘Just tell us what you want,’ [in the past],” Kennett said. “Now’s the opportunity for them to step up to the plate.”
Kennett asked each town and the county to really prioritize a couple of needed projects to present on Friday, along with their longer laundry lists.
“The towns are in a budget crunch while the county is almost in an information crunch,” Commissioner John Linn said.
The county foresaw a possible justice center, continued funding for roads and possible senior housing as expensive impact needs. It was noted that the county’s assessed value (making up 90-95 percent of the budget) has actually gone down since 2007. The budget has only increased because the current commission has stored away money in reserve accounts. Going into 2009, the county has close to a $137 million budget including reserves.
“It’s not like that is a cumulative number,” Chairman William Cramer said.
Linn also said he would like for more information on industry activity. Housing needs, where people would need to live and where offices should be located were of interest to help the county plan for impacts.
The commission vowed to find a way to help local homeowners with property tax relief, even suggesting that the energy industry could somehow help fund such relief.
Marbleton Councilman Michael Hughes reported that the town was spending a lot of its money on road construction. The council recently budgeted $6 million for improving roads, including blacktopping, but the project is now going to cost closer to $8 million.
Future needs for the town include replacing its sewer lagoon and attaching the airport and fairgrounds to the city sewer and water system.
According to numbers culled by ERG, Marbleton is using about 94 percent of its budget on capital improvements, a number that has increased dramatically since about 2005.
Waterlines and streets, a town hall addition and landfill work topped Big Piney’s wish list, Mayor Philip Smith said.
“Each street we dig up, we install a new water line,” Smith said.
Big Piney has assessed a need for about $3 million for next year and over $2 million in 2010 for street projects.
“Streets and waterlines are probably our biggest [needs],” Smith said.
Estimates for landfill work ran at about $125,000 and an addition to the town hall could cost $150,000.
Running along a similar theme, Mayor Steve Smith of Pinedale outlined a project to upgrade streets and water and sewer lines. A plan for about six to seven phases over eight to 10 years could come in at $3 to $5 million per phase.
“That would definitely be our number one priority,” Smith said.
A federal mandate will also require the town to install a new water filtration system by 2012 that could cost somewhere between $3 and $7 million. Smith noted his town — and the county — was also suffering for more after-school and daycare help.
“These are things we’ve discussed many times in the past,” he said.
Both Big Piney and Pinedale are using over 60 percent of their budgets for capital improvement.
Bousman hoped that this could be the first of many meetings, perhaps having a similar meeting each or every other year.
As of press time, it could not be confirmed whether the public was invited to attend.
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