Commissioners move forward with land swap

After hearing from all three communities, Sundance proposal accepted

By Sarah Pridgeon

Three municipalities offered their proposals to house the County Fairground at last week’s gathering of the County Commissioners. Should the land swap come to pass, a new football field will be built on the current site, leaving the fairgrounds in need of a new home.

The commissioners considered each of the proposals and ultimately decided to proceed with Sundance, passing a motion to go ahead with the land swap contingent on sufficient money being available to construct the new fairgrounds.


The Proposals

On behalf of Hulett, Jim Pannell presented a proposal to expand the town’s existing rodeo grounds.

“Our idea is not nearly as grand as Sundance’s,” Pannell began.

“Our plan is a lot smaller and mostly revolves around the county fair itself.”

Not including the rodeo, other amenities and adjacent recreation property, the area of land that Hulett proposed leasing to the county was around five acres in size. Pannell explained that, though the existing fairground is 16 acres in size, its footprint excluding the campground is closer to five acres.

There would be no “big barn” under Hulett’s proposal. The livestock sale could be held in a large tent and the existing arena used for horse shows and additional activities.

“What we would propose would be a long-term agreement under which the city of Hulett would do the maintenance,” said Pannell, suggesting a cost in the neighborhood of $30-35,000 per year that would free up the fair board to concentrate on fair.

Current fair-related items would be moved to Hulett, according to the proposal, and the Town of Hulett would need approximately $400,000 from the grant or other sources to build the facilities.

Fred Devish, on behalf of the Town of Moorcroft, informed the commissioners that a meeting had been held the night before at which several citizens had expressed their interest.

“As we gained speed, it came to our attention that it was about a $1.4 million project to get water and sewer from Moorcroft, of sufficient size to service this fairground,” he began, noting that other projects such as the lagoon, landfill and roads still need to be addressed in Moorcroft.

County Attorney Joe Baron pointed out that the existing site does not allow for malt beverage licenses and easements would be required across the state land. Paved road does exist on two sides of the land, confirmed Devish, and a landowner has offered to donate 30 acres.

“I did say that, if someone in the community wanted to pursue it, that I would support that – and I’m here to support that,” said Devish.

“Those are the facts of where we’re at and I’m just saying that, from my point of view, it would be a wonderful thing to do but I don’t think we’ve got the check book to make it happen in Moorcroft.”

Devish concluded by offering his support for the land swap in general, wherever the County Commissioners chose to locate it.

The City of Sundance presented its original proposal to the County Commissioners, consisting of a donation of approximately 30 acres south of town, near the Green Mountain Cemetery, with available sewer and water and a paved road.

The city also pledged grant-writing services through Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lenz to the State Lands and Investment Board to help the county acquire a Mineral Royalty Grant, which would be used as matching funds to build the new fairgrounds facility on the donated property. A walking path to the location is also in progress.

“When we originally came forward with this proposal, it was with the best motives to have a new fair. It wasn’t to get rid of the fair, the City of Sundance is happy to have that event here,” said Lenz.

Lenz pointed out that the fair is Sundance’s one event to bring the county community together. Moorcroft has the jubilee, Hulett has the rodeo and Sundance has the fair, she said.

“When we made that proposal, we felt it was a good proposal for everyone involved, not just for the city or the school. It was for growth and improvement and seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime chance for all of us to come together and make a difference,” Lenz added.

Mayor Paul Brooks added that Sundance likes and wants the fair, but is not opposed to it moving.

Judy Hutchinson expressed that the fair board would respect and support any decision made by the county, but offered the board’s view that it would be preferable to stay in Sundance, the county seat.

The weather is slightly better, she said, and moving the fairgrounds away would leave Sundance’s kids with nowhere to practice. The fair board also has long range goals and would like to build on the history that the fair already has, she added.


Time is of the essence

The next step is to give the School Facilities Commission a price for the current fairground site, said Commissioner Jim Hadley. If the commission accepts the offer, the county can seek a SLIB grant to match the amount.

Baron explained that the county will next need to name its price for the fairground site for the school district to take to the School Facilities Commission. Reggie Gaylord confirmed that the next meeting for the commission is in mid-June and there will not be another until August.

Lenz added that the SLIB grant proposal will need to be in by September, which leaves limited time to prepare it, hold public hearings, request appraisals and make resolutions.

“For us to apply for this grant, I would think that a decision needs to be made as to whether you’re going to go ahead, and who you’re going to move ahead with, definitely sooner than later,” she said.

Commissioner Kelly Dennis expressed that he would be unwilling to make a decision about moving the fairgrounds without having a replacement cost appraisal for the current site, which Baron was able to provide, and assurances that there will be no financial shortfall for the county and no potentially crippling increase in maintenance and labor costs.

Hadley commented that decisions on what to build for the new fairground would be made by the commission and said that, “if we build more than we can maintain, that’s our own fault.” Baron added that the commissioners will have opportunities to stop the swap should financials become a problem – even up until the grant is issued, expected in January 2015.

Though Commissioner Jeanne Whalen suggested a motion to move ahead with the swap without making a decision between the towns, Hadley pointed out that creating a motion without doing so would be problematic because all the elements of the swap are so closely tied together.

Whalen felt that moving the fairgrounds to Hulett would tap in to the enthusiasm for fair activities in that community, but that space would be too limited to create the fairgrounds the commission would like to see. A motion was therefore made and unanimously passed to move ahead with the land swap with the City of Sundance, contingent upon receiving adequate funding to rebuild the fairground.

Following an executive session, the board passed a motion to approve the offered price of the appraised value of the fairground property at $899,081. At the suggestion of Commissioner Dennis, a motion was then passed to increase the offer by $165,000 to a total of $1,064,081.


We were not indecisive, says Commissioner Whalen

Commissioner Jeanne Whalen took a moment during the meeting to express that not making a decision on moving ahead with the fairgrounds during the recent public hearing was not a question of being indecisive.

“The meeting the other night was really only the second time this whole board met, so the intent of the public hearing was to gather comments from the public. I didn’t feel that it was our place to make a decision at that time,” she said.

Though the potential to make a decision was included on the agenda, Whalen stated that the public hearing was called so that the commission could hear from the people and that she had “no intention of making a decision at that time.”

“I was glad I went to that meeting, I was glad everyone spoke, because I was not in favor of selling the fairgrounds as I had never heard any positive feedback about that,” she said.

“My mind was changed that night, the attendees at the hearing showed that there was support for the sale…This is a big issue for the county and we’re blessed that it is.”

The commission asked for comments from the public and got them, she concluded, which to her made the public meeting a success.