County to form citizen committee for 1 percent sales tax project prioritization

By Joshua Scheer, reporter,

(Lander, Wyo.) – The Fremont County Commission has opted to form a citizen committee to help guide potential 1 percent sales tax projects. The tax was narrowly approved by voters last November and will begin being collected in April.

Local Fremont County governments all committed the funds to infrastructure projects like roads and sewers. The cities of Lander and Riverton have begun forming similar committees to what the county has initiated.

During this morning’s commission meeting, Transportation Superintendent Dave Pendleton was tasked with forming a committee to identify, rank and weight criteria for choosing projects to be funded by the tax.

Anyone interested in serving on the committee, which will likely be limited to about seven individuals, should contact the Fremont County Transportation office at 332-1039.

Pendleton approached the commission with a number of ideas on how to work with the public on identifying projects. One approach, which was ultimately selected by general consensus, was to have the public suggest, rank and weight criteria to be used in identifying projects. The transportation department would then use the publicly selected criteria for prioritizing known needs. The second option was to have a public committee actually select and rank projects.

Most of the commissioners expressed some concern with having the committee select and prioritize individual projects due to many likely having “pet projects” and not wanting to listen to others.

“As far as selecting the projects … that, in my opinion, is something that would have to happen here,” Chairman Doug Thompson said. “I’m not opposed to them having some input on criteria for selection. … I am in favor of having a public committee for public transparency.”

Pendleton said he was willing to travel to all of the county’s communities and solicit criteria input rather than forming a select committee.

Both Thompson and Commissioner Stephanie Kessler had concerns about the burden that travel would have on Pendleton and his department. Commissioner Keja Whiteman felt there will be a need to educate the involved members of the public on how the road system works and which roads the county has jurisdiction over and which ones it does not. It was suggested that educating a small committee rather than doing so at multiple one-time meetings would be more effective.

Thompson said he thought the committee would select and weight criteria, and then with Pendleton, prioritize a list.

Treasurer Scott Harnsberger reminded the commission that currently any projects more than $250,000 in scope are required to be reviewed by the Capital Improvement and Maintenance Program: Long-term (CIMPL) committee. The group is made up of elected and appointed officials.

It was decided that after the citizen committee had weighed in on projects, they would then be reviewed through the CIMPL process.

Thompson began steering the discussion toward specifics like how big the committee should be, where members should be from within the county and member selection criteria.

“I’m inclined to just not provide too much micromanagement of this public process,” Kessler said, noting she’d like the transportation department to figure out what would work best for them.

The commission seemed inclined to allow anyone within Fremont County’s boundaries to be considered on the board, including those in incorporated municipalities. Thompson did remind Pendleton that those living in the Lysite area would have a different perspective than those from Riverton. “I think you recognize that,” he said.

Kessler said she would like to see a thought-out timeline of how the process would be executed.