Commissioners discuss future of county scholarships

SUBLETTE COUNTY – A statewide meeting among county employees in Gillette later in the week forced the Sublette County Board of Commissioners to meet a day early for a morning with little action inside the Commissioners’ Chambers on Sept. 20.

While there were only a small handful of motions made during the meeting, plenty of discussion was had across a wide spectrum of the county’s reach.

The lengthiest discussion regarded the county commissioners’ scholarships. Commissioners have awarded scholarships for years but this board said it wanted to re-examine its basic tenements and selection process during spring meetings.

Commissioner Doug Vickrey said he wanted to see the county continue to award scholarships, since it’s important to him for the county to invest in its youth. Commissioner Dave Stephens asked if they could go to the schools and ask councilors to contribute to the recipient selection process, which other commissioners agreed would put the councilors in a difficult position. Vickrey thought the county could maybe get rid of the deferral and change circumstances of the scholarship to a “use it or lose it” scenario.

Commissioner Sam White said he doesn’t like how the board selects the recipients. He said it doesn’t do enough to reward students who have mid-level GPAs with aspirations of going to a trade school rather than a four-year institution. Commissioner Joel Bouseman agreed with the need to accommodate trade school students.

Commissioner Tom Noble was concerned about shifting the criteria to needs-based because it profiles students and the county couldn’t do that. That left the selection process to be performance-based. He said if that were taken away it wouldn’t be fair to the high performers.

Vickrey suggested commissioners get to know who the kids are by asking the public. They could ask for public input or more involvement from the school counselors to get a better idea on the students themselves.

Ultimately, in the interest of time, the board tabled that discussion until its next meeting in October.

Billy Pape, county Road & Bridge Supervisor, gave a rundown of projects. He said the department is trying to blade near Bondurant and frost should help. A box culvert has been purchased for the Horse Creek project but it isn’t due for delivery until January. That will force the department to wait until spring to install it.

A slated Birch Creek project gained healthy discussion on what to do regarding erosion. Department employees have reached out to erosion experts for the best possible financially advantageous solutions to eroding pipes. Vickrey said he’s had extensive history with that creek and pitched the idea of a riser. Pape said they’ve done something similar elsewhere and could look into it.

Commissioners also engaged in a discussion with county surveyor Skylar Wilson about a proposed second lot being taken on by the Children’s Discovery Center. County administrator Matt Gaffney said he didn’t believe the second-lot circumstance to be a deal breaker in the Children’s Discovery Center’s hopes of purchasing the land it’s on; he just wanted the board to be aware of this situation.

Todd Hurd of Forsgren Associates was invited before the board to give an update on the county’s largest ongoing projects. They talked about the Rendezvous Pointe garage and the insurance payout from damages the fire caused months earlier. Gaffney said it’s his intention to make sure the county pays no extra dime in rebuilding the damaged bays. They’ll have to sort out personal-item retrieval and if a generator in the building is necessary with the Sublette Center, but commissioners passed and adopted a motion the way for the project.

Hurd said construction on the Big Piney Library shut down last week because of COVID-19 among library staff. Once the project is able to resume, crews will focus on sewer piping while waiting on material. Regarding the Daniel Fire Station, Hurd said they’re close to complete on electrical and plumbing. He also wanted another rundown of financial numbers because he wasn’t sure how the county was already over budget by $400,000 on the project, as discussed at a previous commissioners’ meeting.

Other board items discussed:

  • Commission chair Joel Bousman said a new part-time public defender has started in the district and those with opinions or comments have the opportunity to share them although the deadline had passed for public comment before hiring.
  • The board accepted the appointment of Kate Hays to fill the Sublette County Weed & Pest Board. Hays filled the position left by the resignation of Pam Chrisman, who stepped down after 18 years of service.
  • The board elected to wait and see if Phil Vrska could fill his county sanitarian duties while taking on more hours with the school district as a bus driver. The district said it needs additional bus drivers at the moment and county administrator Matt Gaffney suggested keeping Vrska on as sanitarian.
  • Commissioners decided to continue ordering 1,000 copies of the State of the County report made by Cat Urbigkit and Deanne Swain. Urbigkit answered board questions during the meeting and commissioners thanked the team for its work.