Officials want to address outstanding questions and poll county opinion before forming district
By Sarah Pridgeon
Though four of the five entities in Crook County are now tentatively on board with the idea of forming a solid waste district and asking the public to vote on a mill levy that would fund a regional landfill, the county commissioners opted not to form that district last week.
Before taking the plunge, representatives felt some outstanding questions still need to be answered. To make that happen, the Crook County Solid Waste Joint Powers Board has agreed to resume its research activities, while County Clerk Linda Fritz is exploring options to issue a survey to ask county residents for their thoughts on the issue.
Representatives from all four municipalities attended the regular meeting of the commission with the intention of presenting letters of support for or objection to the formation of a solid waste district. Only Hulett came out against a district, with the remaining towns and County Commissioners in support – if only to put the mill levy question in the hands of the voters.
“It is within the realm of possibility for us to attempt something countywide,” said Mayor Paul Brooks, Sundance. “I do like the idea of being in charge of our own destiny.”
The hope had been to form a district and its board in time to meet the deadline for November’s ballot. As there is a 60-day approval process at the state level, Commissioner Kelly Dennis described that timeline as “virtually impossible” and no objections were made to the idea of waiting.
Fritz reminded representatives that missing the general election in November does not necessarily mean waiting two years to ask voters for their opinions. A special election could be held next year, she said, in the form of a mail ballot.
Dick Claar, Councilman, spoke on behalf of the Town of Moorcroft, saying, “We ask that the commissioners establish a solid waste district” and presenting a letter from the council to that effect.
He agreed the timeline appears too short to get the question on the ballot this year but suggested that, if a district could be established, its board would have plenty of time to study the situation and come back with recommendations in time for a special election.
If the countywide situation does not go ahead, he added, it may be necessary for Moorcroft and Sundance to strike out alone.
Larry Suchor, Mayor, spoke on behalf of the Town of Pine Haven, stating that the council has not met since the question of forming a district was raised and thus he was not able to give a firm position at that time. However, he said, in his opinion a district could be positive, as long as it is formed with certain parameters in mind; in particular, Suchor mentioned that three mills may be too high to be fair to the citizens of Pine Haven.
Any countywide solution needs to be relative to what the citizens are paying today, he said, and he would also like to see additional funding sources sought. If the council agrees with his position, he told the commission that a letter will be prepped to this effect.
Paul Brooks, Mayor, spoke for the City of Sundance, saying, “I really think a county solution is where it’s at” and presenting a resolution of support for a district to the commission. Obviously, Sundance is aiming to keep the costs down for citizens, he said, and he fears a monopoly situation if every entity goes for a private hauling contract.
Brooks noted that Sundance and Moorcroft are likely pushing for a district harder than its fellow entities because the state’s mandate on closing landfills was designed to stagger the closure dates.
This may not have been the best choice, Brooks said, because it means that the entities who are coming up against problems first are seeing the need to push for solutions sooner. In Sundance, for instance, “We have to do something and we have to do it fairly soon.”
Vivian Odell, Mayor, spoke for the Town of Hulett and shared that her council “strongly opposes” the idea of a district. She stated that the joint powers board was formed to research options and feasibility and this was clearly achieved.
No option was found that is in the best interests of the smaller towns and some county residents, she said. “The numbers have not changed since that time,” Odell said, adding that Hulett has a system that works for the town and is affordable for residents.
Odell also cautioned that creating a district without a clear goal in mind would be akin to writing a blank check. “Of course we would prefer a local landfill, but it has to be at a reasonable cost,” she said.
Hulett understands that the situation could change tomorrow, she said, and that’s why the town has remained involved in discussions. However, for now, Hulett is secure.
All three county commissioners had questions about how the district – and a regional landfill – would work, though none expressed opposition to the idea of forming one. Dennis offered his opinion that there are details to be discussed before a district is formed and that surveying citizens might be a good idea to help the commission know where county residents stand.
Commissioner Steve Stahla expressed concern over the fact that, if a district is formed and the mill levy fails, the county has an unfunded entity on its hands. Though he understands this is how the process must pan out according to statute, he said he is, “All for letting the voters decide…but I think it’s a little backwards to form a district and then be told no.”
Brooks responded that, while he understands Stahla’s position, a district is necessary so that the state has an entity to recognize and also so that the mill levy can be used as matching funds for a grant.
Commissioner Jeanne Whalen asked for clarification on what the mill levy would pay for and who would own the landfill site. Claar responded that the current plan would see the levy pay solely for the construction of the landfill and the fees for using the landfill would be dependent on the number of users; Moorcroft would meanwhile likely sell the land for the site to the district for $1, he said.
Joint Powers Board
The general consensus in the room was that questions still remain unanswered. Some of these were posed and initial thoughts provided, such as:
- How much mill levy should the district collect? County Assessor Theresa Curren pointed out that a mill represents $9.50 per year for each $100,000 of market value a property has. “We’re not looking at very much money,” she said. Three mills, she added, would represent $537,000 per year for the district; Brooks estimated that construction will cost in the region of $2 million.
- What would the timeline be for collecting mill levy proceeds? Curren stated that, if the mill levy was passed in November, it would be a year before the first payments were received.
- When could construction start? Brooks stated that he would anticipate putting out requests for proposals for engineering when the money began to come in and put a plan together to begin seeking grants. “I really don’t believe you would turn a shovelful of dirt before 2019, maybe 2020,” he said.
- Could Sundance and Moorcroft still go it alone? Odell suggested it would seem the natural route, though Curren shared her opinion that every single household in the county is going to have to deal with garbage and therefore it is only fair that every household should be involved in the decision of what to do with it.
- What grants would be available? Brooks listed the State Lands and Investments Board and Wyoming Rural Development. Whalen asked if the Department of Environmental Quality has grants available along the lines of the ones offered by the Environmental Protection Agency; Brooks explained that they are not set up to be a funding agency. “They don’t make you money, they cost you money,” added Dennis.
Perhaps the biggest question on the table, however, was the possibility of teaming up with Weston County’. “What an opportunity. It just seems like we should jump on exploring that,” said Odell.
At this time, Weston County has the opposite problem to Crook County, said Brooks; while we have a landfill site and no district, they have a district and no landfill site.
“I think we need them – or they need us – to make this work,” said Stahla.
Dennis wrapped up the discussion by stating that it would be sensible to answer some of these questions, particularly those relating to the operation of the district, before forming a district. Rushing in, he said, rarely turns out well.
Stahla agreed; delaying the decision doesn’t mean it can’t be made next month or two months from now, he said. Acknowledging he has been lagging behind in his knowledge of the issue and the activities of the joint powers board, he expressed that delaying is not likely to change the scenario.
Representatives from all communities agreed the joint powers board should reconvene to continue investigating the issue. A meeting was set for April 25 at 7 p.m. in Pine Haven.