Campbell County Commission candidates agreed that it was a good thing that Campbell County spent money on construction projects when the money was there. And they are glad that there was money in reserve accounts to cover expenses in the coming years when there may be fewer dollars coming in from coal and natural gas.
The five candidates answered at a forum Thursday a range of questions about how they would govern Campbell County.
Other issues included how they would grow business and how they would cooperate with the city of Gillette and town of Wright on projects.
The candidates spoke favorably of the commission’s work in saving money for future maintenance and to prepare for less tax money coming in.
“I think the current commission had done a great job setting the county up for the future,” said challenger Mark Christensen.
“Being an existing commissioner, I think you know that we’ve been very conservative, and we’ve set the county to a position where our children will not be paying for a lot of things because of the reserves we have set up,” said Commissioner Steve Hughes.
Here are some of the other topics they answered questions on:
Cooperation with other governments
The question of how the county would continue work with the town of Wright and the city of Gillette went to Christensen, who is chairman of the Campbell County Public Land Board, which has representatives from the county and the city.
The joint powers boards were a good way to prevent the governments from doing the same services, Christensen said. But he thought that there needed to be a clear agreement about how much money and representation each entity contributed to avoid conflict. The Campbell County Public Land Board doesn’t know how much money it will get in before a given year because there isn’t a set formula for funding, he said.
If he agreed to another joint powers board between city and county, Christensen said he wanted it to be clear how much will be contributed from the start.
“Joint powers boards are good things, but when the effort isn’t put up front to make sure it’s well planned, it can turn into a cripple later on,” he said.
He also said the current commission made the right decision by not buying into the city’s Field of Dreams project.
Candidate Garry Becker said it was important for the different entities in a joint powers agreement to be on equal ground, comparing the agreements to marriage.
“If one partner is called upon to do more than the other, that always will lead to strife,” he said
Candidate and current city Councilman Robin Kuntz said the city’s recycling program was an example of where this cooperation was needed because city programs like composting would help keep waste from taking up space in the county landfill.
Kuntz believed the city and the county could cooperate in opposing more regulations on industry from the U.S. government.
“We really need to look at how the federal government is an assault on our way of life right now,” he said.
He believed the county, city, the town of Wright and the state could work on a marketing campaign that would promote the county’s resources to the nation.
Each candidate voiced support for the energy industry, including Garry Becker who said it was the role of all governments to “stay out of the way of business development.”
“Anything that local government can do to stay out of the way of economic development, I think is appropriate,” he said.
Keeping spending in the county low has been a way the county has supported industry, Commissioner Chris Knapp said.
“I believe that government has a partnership with industry and one of the ways we do that is by living within our means,” Knapp said.
He touted the fact that the county kept a 11.05 mill levy on industry for this budget year, while Wyoming allows County government to tax up to 12 mills.
The candidates also expressed support for Gillette College as a tool to create job skills in the region.
For Kuntz, the college raised a distinction that he saw between funding short-term capital projects like construction, and paying for operations, which he saw as creating a long-term burden. He could see supporting staff on a new project for the short term, but wouldn’t want it to go more than two years.
Later, when candidates were asked what they would do to accommodate the higher population in the county, Kuntz said “Sometimes it’s more efficient to add a person or two, and maintain your service level.”
The candidates looked at how the county will create budgets in the face of lower coal and natural gas prices.
Hughes used the example of Gov. Matt Mead request to state governmental agencies to cut budgets by 8 percent.
“I think you need to look at those kinds of things to get what kind of funding you’re going to have before you commit to any capital construction projects,” he said. “One of the reasons that we funded everything that we have now is so that we don’t have any carryover.”
“I believe you govern with a set of principles, whether times are good or whether times are bad,” Knapp said.
Like Hughes, he said the recent spate of construction projects had been meant to set up infrastructure in the county while there was still money for it.
“We’re getting toward the tail end of that now, which allows us to have money for operations in the future and to put away as much as possible. Especially in the last five years, we’ve really concentrated on those accounts to benefit us,” Knapp said,
On Aug. 21, voters will get to decide which of the two County Commission candidates will get the Republican nomination. Since there are no Democratic candidates in the race now, the primary likely will decide which candidates fill the two seats.