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Commissioners split in Riverton justice center, wolf suit decisions

Apr 26, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

In two close votes, the Fremont County Commission engaged a firm to design a new Riverton justice center and committed $1,000 to a court fight about wolves.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to sign a $380,000 contract with Reilly Johnson Architects for justice center plans. Doug Thompson, Travis Becker and Larry Allen voted for it.

Keja Whiteman and Stephanie Kessler cast dissenting votes, citing concerns about committing to an as-of-yet unfunded project.

In March, the county board chose to build a new justice center containing a courthouse and space for sheriff and county attorney offices on the Major property in Riverton. Moves to build a new facility arose after it was discovered in July that a bullet had penetrated the current courthouse's exterior.

Becker negotiated the contract and said it is structured in five stages, with the county paying for one stage at a time. The first step is a schematic, which Reilly Johnson would finish by May 7.

"I think the amount of money we have designated should be the first part rather than designing something and then figuring out how to pay for it," Whiteman said.

The contract also allows the commission to back out at any time if it gives seven days notice to the architects. If the contract were canceled, the county would not have to pay the remainder of the fees.

"If at any time we're done, we're done," Becker said. "That seven day notice we were able to put in there gives us an out at any time."

Others were unconvinced that it was wise to sign a contract when there were still questions about funding the entire project.

Fremont County submitted a grant application to the State Lands Investment Board for $2.6 million, about half the estimated cost of the justice center. SLIB will not make a decision on the matter until June.

Commissioners have discussed paring down the project or postponing it if the grant does not come through.

"We said if we don't get the funding, we're going to change plans," Kessler said. "My concern is we don't know how we're going to pay for this."

In the end, the majority of commissioners did not seem to share those worries.

Wolves

Commissioners divided along the same line in a vote to contribute $1,000 to the Wyoming Wolf Coalition. The money will help the group in a lawsuit with environmental groups who want wolves returned to the endangered species list.

The money will come from unused money set aside in the commission's budget to contract for services.

"I'm cautious about supporting independent litigation like this and the precedent it sets for other funding requests," Kessler said.

Since the federal government removed the species from the list in 2012, state government has been able to manage wolves in much of Wyoming.

"We have a lot of commerce that's adversely affected by these predators," Becker said. "I would be in favor of helping them financially to the tune of $1,000."

Commissioners voted 3-2 for the contribution, with Thompson, Becker and Allen voting for it.

Whiteman expressed worries about the process.

"I think the best mechanism for things like this is to come through the budget process, which is fast approaching," she said.