Intergovernmental meeting

Leaders from seven governments in Sweetwater County connected in person and virtually Wednesday to look for ways to adjust to reduced revenue and combine their efforts to produce savings and continued services.

ROCK SPRINGS – The list of services, departments or endeavors to be considered for countywide consolidation totaled a baker’s dozen, but to maximize their efforts, leaders in Sweetwater County decided to concentrate on a handful. While preparing for reduced revenue and difficulty continuing services, county, city, and town representatives decided to focus on ambulance service, the special purpose tax, joint communications, centralized purchasing, and economic development.

An informal workshop on Wednesday drew representatives from the governments of Sweetwater County, Bairoil, Granger, Green River, Rock Springs, Superior, and Wamsutter to begin discussions about potential partnerships to reduce costs and continue important services. With revenue expected to continue to decline, creative solutions and hard decisions are anticipated.

The meeting was chaired from the council chambers in Rock Springs City Hall, though some participated virtually from city offices or their homes. Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Randy “Doc” Wendling led the meeting and noted that he couldn’t think of another time when they’d gathered for an intergovernmental meeting with such scope.

“We’re all in this together,” he said.

Wendling said that even though a lot of attention is usually concentrated on the county, Rock Springs and Green River, it is important to involve the small towns and recognize their needs can be different. He hoped that they could put any past troubles behind them and work together, or else “we won’t survive the future.”

The meeting agenda originally included 13 topics: ambulance, special purpose tax/6th cent tax, joint communications, joint airport, joint telecom, centralized inventory, solid waste, fire protection, police protection, recreation, animal control, recycling, and water/sewer. Economic development, a mill levy, and a review of services and processes also featured in discussions.

AMBULANCE SERVICE

The Sweetwater County Commission previously announced its decision to end the ambulance service contract with Sweetwater Medics and Castle Rock Hospital District, effective March 31. The county presently provides 100% of the subsidy.

Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo expressed an interest in lending a hand and finding a solution but added the city could not commit financially at this time.

Green River Mayor Pete Rust said they see the value of participating in an ambulance service agreement.

The smaller towns have their own arrangements but said they would consult with their councils.

Bairoil lost its ambulance service and relies on Carbon County. Granger Mayor Brad McCollum said they rely on Castle Rock for ambulance service. Superior Mayor Dominic Wolf said they contract with Sweetwater Medics in addition to working with the volunteer fire department. Wamsutter has a volunteer ambulance system, and Mayor Joe Erickson added they also use Carbon County as a backup.

Sweetwater County Commissioner Jeff Smith was named the leader of the ambulance group, which will include Rock Springs Councilman Tim Robinson. Other members will be selected following upcoming council meetings.

SPECIAL PURPOSE TAX

A 6th cent tax allows counties, cities and towns to raise money for improvements, renovations, and other projects. A push to put the special purpose tax on the ballot in 2019 collapsed when multiple elected officials questioned its ability to pass and withdrew their support.

On Wednesday, Mayor Rust called the tax critically important.

Bairoil Mayor Sue Ann Rigano agreed and said her community had experienced nine waterline breaks in 2020.

While council discussion is pending, officials were more confident about the membership of this committee. Representatives from the last campaign including Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld, Rock Springs City Councilman Keaton West, Granger Mayor McCollum, Superior Mayor Wolf and Bairoil Mayor Rigano are expected to return. Commissioner Roy Lloyd was tapped to co-lead the group with Schoenfeld.

Wendling said the group will need to get to work as soon as all representatives are named and probably do some research with the help of their legal counsel.

JOINT COMMUNICATIONS

There is already an existing Sweetwater Combined Communications Joint Powers Board to oversee communications between law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services. It has three members each from Green River, Rock Springs and Sweetwater County.

Rock Springs Councilman Rob Zotti questioned why they were forming a committee to oversee a board that they appoint.

Kaumo said he thought they would redirect the existing representatives to come up with a plan for improved cooperation and savings. However, he and Mayor Rust expressed frustration that this had been a long unfulfilled expectation.

Councilman West said he expected the existing memorandums of understandings (MOUs) or agreements in place would be a sticking point. He recommended that the two mayors and their legal counsels work out a new deal with input from the board.

Commissioner Wendling said the fundamental issue is about funding and that under the current MOU, the board has an open, unlimited checkbook, which he believed should not be the case with any board.

He said the county liaison will be determined at the next commission meeting.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Rust interrupted the discussion partway through the agenda to add economic development to the list as one of the priorities. The proposal received support from the other mayors.

Granger Mayor McCollum said “we’re definitely on board with it,” adding their community could benefit in a bigger way.

Mayor Kaumo said, “Economic development helps everybody in the entire county.”

He stressed it’s not just a “Rock Springs thing” or a “Green River thing,” but something that will be beneficial to everyone.

The group talked about ways to work with the existing Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition as part of their ongoing conversations to promote business opportunities and better direct their combined efforts.

{span data-offset-key=”52j-0-0”}Wendling said they would continue their ongoing dialog with the SEDC, which will continue to provide information and recommendations, and the government leaders will do what they can to help. {/span}The commissioner also encouraged the SEDC to work with the small towns because they contribute funding and should be engaged.

CENTRALIZED PURCHASING

Getting discounts by making purchases in bulk is another area local governments will explore. Wendling said they should talk to the people in the trenches who do the heavy lifting when it comes to purchasing and distribution, and then decide who are the best people to put on the committee.

Commissioner Schoenfeld said they should look for other overlapping areas and review what services and processes could be combined.

ON HOLD

Other topics on the agenda were placed on hold, including some without discussion.

Mayor Rust said, “We won’t be able to deal with too many things at one time.”

Commissioner Wendling later said, “Do too much and you can’t do a quality job.

— When it came to the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport, it already has a board with members appointed by Sweetwater County, Green River and Rock Springs.

Councilman West noted proposed legislation that could create an airport district to raise money for airports.

Wendling said they will keep an eye on that and involve the smaller towns if the bill progresses.

— Rock Springs, Sweetwater County and Green River recently formed a Joint Powers Telecommunications Board to oversee the fiber network connecting Green River and Rock Springs.

Kaumo said they should give the new agreement time to work; a sentiment that Rust echoed.

WHAT’S NEXT?

When it comes to adding items for consideration, Wendling suggested that people contact him or bring them to the next workshop, which was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 3. The commission chairman encouraged the councils to name committee members quickly so they could get to work immediately.

Meeting participants expressed delight with the direction that things were headed.

“It was a good beginning,” Mayor Rust said. “I’m looking forward to working with everybody.”

Mayor McCollum said, “We just appreciate being involved and look forward to being a part of it.”

As he had throughout the meeting, Wendling underlined how much he valued the participation of the towns and how he wanted them to be involved.

“We want you to be a part of it as much as you want to be,” he said.

A MAYOR IN WAITING?

During the frequent switching between officials who were participating through Zoom calls and those in council chambers, Commissioner Wendling accidentally referred to “Mayor West” on multiple occasions.

C. Keith West, Keaton West’s great uncle, served as Rock Springs mayor from 1979 to 1986.

At one point the commissioner mistakenly misapplied the Rock Springs councilman’s title when trying to ask a question of Kaumo. The mayor of Rock Springs let the silence hang for a moment before explaining that he was just waiting on Mayor West to speak up.

After apologizing for his repeated mistake, Commissioner Wendling said whether it’s in Rock Springs or Green River, they would make a mayor out of West.

Wendling laughingly questioned what coverage would come out of their jesting, and Mayor Rust joked that “luckily there’s no press on at the moment.”

For those who did not join the government representatives and press at City Hall or watched the live stream, the video of the meeting can be watched at the “Sweetwater County Government” YouTube page.

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