Commissioners agree on new scholarship process

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Following hours of extended conversation spread across numerous meetings, and an impromptu executive session that followed an hour discussion at the Oct. 19 meeting, the Sublette County Board of Commissioners voted on its new scholarship selection process.

The Oct. 19 meeting, which took place at Marbleton Town Hall, became the culmination of a topic that subtly started back in the spring when commissioners approved their 2021 recipients of the scholarships with the caveat they’d revisit the process for the following year. Most recently, the board elicited the help of county clerk Carrie Long, deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich and deputy county clerk Jeness Saxton to make a recommendation.

During that meeting, Long and Melinkovich presented the collective’s recommendation, which came in two parts. First, there’s the long-standing commissioners’ scholarship that is statute to receive a discount on tuition. That’s been longstanding – three new and one renewal recipient per year – and is based upon set criteria as laid out in statute. The group recommended that remain. The second part of the group’s recommendation related to needs-based help that commissioners discussed seeking at a previous meeting. That recommendation was for commissioners to set aside a set amount to the UW Foundation scholarship with criteria as established by the board.

Commissioners did not announce that criteria during open session in the meeting but shared their intent that funds would be distributed between both school districts and every high school would be represented.

The board eventually adopted this recommendation after full discussion and an executive session so commissioners could consult legal counsel. Before going into executive session, commissioners reiterated their hope of giving recipients freedom to choose what school to go to, but that couldn’t be included this time. So the existing system applies to students attending either the University of Wyoming or one of the state’s various community colleges. Commissioners, or even the next board, could revisit the topic and set new criteria in upcoming years.

Sticking points with the old process were that some of the scholarship recipients didn’t need the county’s scholarship as much as others. Commissioner Doug Vickrey said he wanted to see some of those who needed the commissioners’ scholarship receive that scholarship, so they could go to school. Commissioners Vickrey, Joel Bousman and Sam White all expressed their desires to see potential trade school or community college students be accommodated. There were, of course, logistical hurdles in addressing the needs-based system with those like Commissioner Tom Noble worried about profiling.

Commissioners also floated the idea of school counselors choosing recipients during the process. That came during a meeting where White said commissioners didn’t have time to learn the background on graduating seniors to make their own selections.

Melinkovich reiterated throughout discussions that it’s unusual for a county to have such scholarships for its youth like Sublette does. And no small reason for that was the exhaustive problem solving the group engaged in.

With the board’s vote, graduating seniors from Sublette County will still gain financial assistance to seek a higher education. 

Other items

  • Commissioners discussed the South Piney Fish Creek Road access after the road’s leasee closed it. That road, which is on private property, has historically been kept open for access to public lands. That ended when an out-of-state user ran over the landowners’ dog without stopping, prompting them to close the road. It is now fixed with a “no trespassing” sign. A small working group will look at possible solutions to maintain access to public lands in the area.
  • Representatives from Union Wireless joined the meeting to make a presentation. They said they’re working through Pinedale with plans on entering Big Piney and Marbleton to install broadband throughout the county. Progress is moving along but crews have been hampered by a lack of skilled labor. Some on hand suggested they contact nearby community colleges and BOCES to recruit locally.
  • Representatives from Wazitech joined the meeting to answer questions on the phone system. They answered questions about the transition from CenturyLink and what to anticipate in switching systems. The transition will happen in stages; that way they can identify any gaps or issues more quickly. County administrator Matt Gaffney also recommended a contract with Wazitech to allow them to work more closely with the county for an extended period while current IT manager Mike Christie is out on extended medical leave. Wazitech plans to be in the county courthouse twice a week but will be available for emergencies. Commissioners approved that contract.
  • Melinkovich said the county is working on a delegation agreement for veteran services and Public Health with Sublette County Hospital District legal counsel. District chair Tonia Hoffman said in the Tuesday meeting that the board was prepared to sign the Public Health delegation agreement at its own meeting the following day. The plan is still to not move Public Health to its temporary location until absolutely necessary.

Of course, that is contingent upon USDA approval of the Hospital District’s loan. Hoffman said the district is eagerly waiting for a response and most of its spinning plates remain in limbo until a decision is heard. Hoffman said the district may seek to purchase building material for the hospital as soon as the potential approval, in hopes of avoiding rising market prices. Commissioners mentioned a list of housing options for material.