County reconsiders funding Lander center

Oct 11, 2013 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The possibility of county funding for the Lander Community Center re-emerged after commissioner Stephanie Kessler made a pitch to the county board Oct. 1. The Fremont County Commission made no commitments but decided to look at its options.

Kessler asked the other county board members to give $80,000 to the project this year and consider providing $200,000 total over three years. Mayor Mick Wolfe, community resource coordinator Gary Michaud, Lander City Council president Nancy Pieropan and Del McOmie, a former mayor and retired state representative, attended the meeting.

The city had asked for $500,000 in funding, and a county committee planning long-term investments had recommended granting $250,000. Commissioners decided in September to give no money to the project.

At the commission's meeting Tuesday, County Treasurer Scott Harnsberger recommended the general fund would be the best source for such an appropriation if the county board decided to make it. Other accounts were also options, he said.

"It's an asset for future economic development," Kessler said Oct. 1 of the facility now under construction.

The building is designed to be the largest convention center in the county and will draw large conferences, generating sales and lodging taxes, she said. Kessler said Lander struggled to accommodate the recent Wyoming Association of County Officers convention, but the community center would attract more events of that size.

The effect of that conference spilled outside of Lander, Kessler said, and the old Lander Community Center served 40 percent to 50 percent of the county population.

She also compared the facility to the Fremont Center at the county fairgrounds. With that building, the county provides an event space in Riverton.

The county board has about $80,000 extra in its cash reserve, which is above the $7.5 million it tries to maintain that account, Kessler said. Lander in its funding plan now is only lacking about $400,000, and the city could use $200,000 from the commission as matching funds for other sources of income.

The rest of the county board was hesitant to jump on board.

Commissioner Keja Whiteman said the board has $82,000 extra in its cash reserve account, but it often uses such money to cover expenses that arise throughout the year.

"Generally we try to keep $150,000, $200,000 in there," she said.

Commissioner Larry Allen was not concerned about the $80,000 this year but was worried about committing to $200,000 over three years.

McOmie asked if the county had other accounts it could draw on to fund the project.

Harnsberger addressed that question Tuesday.

"If you're going to go anywhere, I think you could safely assume the general fund could handle $100,000 or $125,000 and not worry about exceeding the total appropriation as it stands now," he said.

The treasurer pointed out that what the county budgeted for the general fund exceeded what it actually spent from that account every year for the past several. The difference ranged from $417,000 to $1.7 million.

County Clerk Julie Freese said her office takes into account the difference between the budget and what is spent when giving forecasts for the next budget so the money does not simply accumulate.

The county also has $1.2 million in its capital revolving fund and plans to spend only about $800,000 out of that, Harnsberger said.

Kessler pointed out a grant the county expects to receive would lessen further the burden on that account.

"So we'd have 80K more in capital revolving than we had authorized," she said.

Another $37,000 from a state grant is in an account set up to give loans to businesses, but the program had run its course, Harnsberger said. Commissioners could use that money however they wished.

The Lander Community Center funding request is on the agenda for the commission's next meeting, Oct. 22.

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