Fairgrounds

Horses gallop toward the finish line during the Wyoming Horse Racing races at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds. The Natrona County Commission got $175,000 of countywide consensus funds to repair stables at the fairgrounds.

Elysia Conner, Star-Tribune

Casper and Natrona County officials clashed for more than a month about how to disperse $1.8 million of county-wide consensus funds, but City Manager Carter Napier proposed a potential new plan this week that he hopes will appease both parties.

Casper City Council initially asked for $600,000 for new seats and metal detectors at the Casper Events Center and $185,646 to replace the Casper Ice Arena ice plant, but the new plan nixes the request for the latter, Napier told council members Tuesday night. Funding for new park equipment in Mills would also be eliminated, while $200,000 would be added for Natrona County to renovate stalls and stables at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds.

The seats had been a point of contention between the city and the county because the Natrona County Commissioners initially thought the money should only be used for critical infrastructure emergencies.

Council members expressed some concerns with the new plan, but overall concluded that the compromise was acceptable. Natrona County Commission Chairman John Lawson said Wednesday that the county also approves.

“We believe that, barring any other surprises, we should all be able to go forward and get this thing processed and resolved,” he said.

Mills Mayor Seth Coleman said Wednesday that he was unaware of the potential change and declined to comment at this time.

Like Casper’s initial proposal, the updated plan would grant $500,000 to Evansville to work on metro road connections and roughly $300,000 to Midwest and Edgerton to fix a leaking waterline, according to Napier. About $200,000 would also still be allotted to repair a public safety radio tower that serves multiple municipalities.

Consensus money comes from the state and is intended to help communities with various infrastructure issues. The State Loan and Investment Board approved the use of Countywide Consensus Grants for multiple projects submitted by Natrona County for the 2015-2016 fiscal years, but one of those plans — the Amoco Reuse Convention Center — never panned out. As a result, about $2.2 million of the allotted money was leftover for municipalities in Natrona County.

About $1.8 million remains after all involved parties agreed to use roughly $400,000 early last year to repair emergency vehicles and a generator and roof at Natrona County’s Hall of Justice and Detention Center, Napier explained Wednesday. But since the county and city have disagreed about how to divvy up the remaining funds, no other projects have been able to move forward.

Explaining that its unlikely the county will receive more consensus funding anytime soon, Lawson previously told the Star-Tribune that he thought the city and county agreed the money should be used for urgent projects, such as the public safety tower or leaking waterline, and otherwise saved for future emergencies. But after learning that other municipalities did not want to save the funds, the chairman said the commission needed more time to consider the county’s needs.

But Casper City Councilman Charlie Powell said last month that the Council believes the commission is overstepping its bounds.

“It’s our stance that the county and commissioners are essentially trying to control decisions that are properly made by the Casper City Council,” he said.

Council members continued to express frustrations with the county Tuesday night, but ultimately concluded that a compromise is in everyone’s best interest.

Newly appointed Mayor Ray Pacheco said he was furious by the county’s “out-of-the-blue” request for funding to fix the fairgrounds, but wanted to move forward.

“A compromise is probably where we’re going to have to come because otherwise it’s going to be a stalemate,” he said.

Councilman Chris Walsh pointed out that improving the fairgrounds would likely bring more people to the area, which would also benefit Casper.

Although he considered the new plan acceptable, newly appointed Vice Mayor Charlie Powell said it was apparent the county never really wanted to save money for future emergencies.

“They had plans for it,” he said. “It wasn’t for an emergency we were going to have.”

Councilwoman Kenyne Humphrey concurred and called the county’s actions “dirty and underhanded.”

Lawson said Wednesday the county did not discuss the issues at the fairgrounds until recent negations with Napier because the commissioners believed it would be best to save the funding.

“We were willing to find another way to fix it and hold on to the other money for the county in case a real emergency came up but that was not what was agreed to,” he explained.

The fairgrounds’ stables and stalls have drainage issues that may deter people from participating in rodeos, fairs and races, said Lawson.

“That would be bad for the entire community,” he remarked.

City staff is now drafting the formal new proposal, which will require official approval from council, Napier said Wednesday. The city manager said he’s hoping the matter will be resolved by early February.

Katie King covers the city of Casper.

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Local Government Reporter

Katie King joined the Star-Tribune in 2017 and primarily covers issues related to local government. She previously worked as a crime reporter in the British Virgin Islands. Originally from Virginia, Katie is a graduate of James Madison University.

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