On most days, having your car break down on the side of the interstate at 10 at night would be the worst part of your day.
But for a couple of dozen people on a bus headed back to Gillette from Sheridan after a meeting Wednesday night, it wasn’t even the worst moment of the last hour. The bus broke down just outside of Buffalo, making a long ride even longer.
During a special meeting of the Northern Wyoming Community College District board of trustees Wednesday night, Campbell County residents presented a short-term, privately funded solution to keep sports and the Energy City Voices going through the next school year, with hopes of coming up with a permanent solution in the meantime.
A few hundred supporters of Gillette College, including student-athletes, coaches, parents and legislators, made the hundred-mile drive to Sheridan College to attend the meeting. But in the end, the board of trustees approved the district’s fiscal year 2021 budget without considering Gillette’s solution.
It means that this fall, Gillette College won’t have a basketball team or a soccer team.
Gillette and Campbell County officials and residents went to the meeting to make their voices heard, but they left the meeting feeling as though no one was listening.
“I think the whole thing was really a big dog and pony show,” Commissioner Rusty Bell said Thursday morning. “It was pretty apparent that they had their minds made up, and they just put on a show.”
“We had a solution that we could save this part of our school, and it helps the whole district,” said Mayor Louise Carter-King. “They had their minds made up. We wasted our time.”
What Bell took away from the meeting was that “we’re not good enough partners to be with Sheridan. They don’t even acknowledge us. It’s time to go.”
The process already has been started to get a petition from Wyoming Community College Commission to create a new district.
“We have to have 500 signatures. That’ll happen in about 10 minutes,” Bell said.
That petition will then have to go before the district board.
“You’ll not see a more united community than Gillette and Campbell County in this effort,” Bell said.
On June 25, the district announced that all sports programs at both Gillette and Sheridan colleges, save for rodeo, would be cut.
District President Walt Tribley said Wednesday the current funding model for the athletics programs was not fiscally sustainable during these economic times. He said athletics could come back to the two schools at some point, but it would be in a different form.
Dave Horning, president of the Gillette College Foundation board, told district trustees that the foundation’s board met Monday to come up with a solution.
“Without hesitation, and with confidence that it has the support of our donors and community,” the foundation committed to provide the money necessary to save and continue those athletic programs and the Energy City Voices through fiscal year 2020-2021,” he said.
The foundation, along with private donations, would raise $532,407, which would be enough to pay salaries and benefits for Gillette College coaches, restore the Gillette College rodeo coach to full-time status and pay program expenses as they’re incurred for one year.
Meanwhile, Campbell County will work with lawmakers to come up with legislation that will provide community colleges with more stable funding.
Bell said it’s not going to be easy, but Gillette’s willing to work hard all year to make it happen.
“We’ve been through tough times before, and we have pulled through, because we have worked together to come up with a solution,” Carter-King said.
Mike Hladky said Gillette and Sheridan are very different communities, so they should have two different college boards.
“When the opportunity comes in the near future for you to vote or give your opinion, should you sit here and make decisions on the lives of Gillette people? I don’t think you want to. Why would you want to?” he asked.
Liz Lewis, former head coach of the Gillette women’s basketball team, made a sports analogy, saying it’s easy to lead a team in a blowout victory.
“True character is seen in times of struggle,” she said. “Right now, we are down by two with 10 seconds left. You are our leaders. Call your play.”
Shawn Neary, former head coach of the Gillette men’s basketball team, said the loss of athletics will trickle down to other parts of the college, including housing, food service, cleaning, faculty and staff.
“This is a domino effect. You guys have a chance to make a difference and say, let’s diversify our economy,” Neary said. “Let’s give Gillette College a chance. These people in this room will make it happen.”
With all this talk about diversifying the economy, the best tool for communities to do that is through their colleges, Neary said.
Bubba Hall, athletic director for Sheridan College, asked the trustees to “give the communities a chance to save the athletics programs. Give them an opportunity to fund, help, support, whatever they need to do.”
Jason Taylor, the father of Jersie Taylor, who was going to play basketball for Sheridan College this year, said the district has put his daughter and many other recruits in “a tailspin.” They’re now scrambling to find new teams.
“She should be the one who decides when her journey ends,” he said. “It sure as hell shouldn’t be you guys. It was wrong for you to do this.”
The lack of communication has frustrated many in Gillette.
State Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said everyone knows cuts have to be made, but sometimes problems aren’t solved with “a checkbook.”
“Sometimes it takes sitting down and talking and working through it,” he said. “That’s what I hope we get out of this conversation.”
During the budget process, when things “don’t quite make the cut,” Barlow said he asks communities if they have solutions to save what’s important to them. He asked the board to do a better job of reaching out to people.
“We can find solutions, we can solve problems. But let’s not make any new ones,” he said.
“I’m really saddened that there were actions taken before anyone in Gillette was consulted or asked for any input,” said former legislator and former Gillette College nursing instructor Norine Kasperik.
Former Gillette College basketball player Sydney Prather said she and her teammates have become part of the community and are role models for young kids.
“Basketball’s not just a game, it’s a passion,” she said. “Gillette’s not just a town, it’s a place we get to call home.”
Rob Milne, a chemistry teacher at Sheridan College, pointed out that no other community college districts in the state have cut their athletics programs. He asked if the district is just being more proactive than other districts, “or did something else go wrong?”
Robert Palmer, chairman of the Gillette College Advisory Board and liaison to the district board, was the last to speak before the board approved its budget. He asked the trustees to consider the proposal.
“We are a community college, and you heard from your community,” he said. “We didn’t communicate very well.”
On several occasions, Tribley said more budget cuts could be coming down the road.
“If we’re going to have reductions, if we’re going to face additional difficulties, we have to communicate with our community,” Palmer said.
“The question is not can we succeed with this proposal. The question is will you allow us to succeed by accepting this proposal?” Horning asked.
The answer to that question was a unanimous “no.” Bell asked the board to make a motion to accept the proposal. But after nearly three hours and comments from 36 people, the board did not even consider it.
Trustee Norleen Healy said she was “very moved” by the people who spoke Wednesday night.
“When hard, hard choices have to be made, I have to choose academics and education over all else,” she said. “We are a college, and that’s what we have to do.”
“It’s a tough decision right now, but I see no other options,” said trustee Gary Koltiska.
Some of the trustees had a problem with the proposal because it only addressed Gillette’s athletics and not Sheridan’s.
“I cannot support a solution that is only partial for a district, and a solution that is not sustainable,” said trustee Debra Wendtland.
Board chairman Walt Wragge asked Gillette residents to think bigger than just Campbell County.
“Our purpose here tonight is, what is best for all students in the district? As I listened, I heard many proposals coming from Gillette,” he said. “You spoke very well and I commend you for that. But it just does not speak well for the district.”
“What we need to do is find solutions for the entire district, and not just for one entity,” he added.
Tribley said that as president of the district, he must make decisions that are in the best interest of the district as a whole.
“My job is to not advocate for one part of the district because when that part of the district wins with my advocacy, some other part of the district loses,” he said. “I directed my vice presidents as such, so if they appear to not be as vocal, that’s a directive.”
Bell told the district board Wednesday that Gillette is looking at all of its options.
“We have been very good partners for a long time. We want to continue to be a partner,” he said. “But we are exploring all options, including exiting and creating our own district. We don’t have a choice. We don’t have a seat at your table.”
At least one trustee acknowledged that Gillette College could potentially leave the longtime partnership.
“We know there may be a time when Gillette decides they need to leave the district,” Wendtland said. “I hope it’s not now, but if it is, it’s been a pleasure.”
After the meeting, Gillette College supporters stood in the parking lot, trying to process what had happened.
“We were hoping when they gave us a chance to come with a one-year solution that at least they would listen to it,” Larry Smith said, adding that he’d expected to have sports this fall.
“We have no representation there (on the board),” said Chuck Land. “So we have no voice.”
“We’re at the will of the whisk,” said Nello Williams. “And that’s sad.”
Williams also expressed his disappointment in Tribley.
“The president? He talked in circles, he talked in circles, he talked in circles. He just went on,” Williams said. “If I were Sheridan, I’d really be disappointed in their president and how he handled himself tonight.”
Williams said this wouldn’t have happened under the last district president, Paul Young, because he was invested in Gillette as a community.
“This guy here, none of this was important to him. None of it,” Williams said.
The day before the meeting, Bell said that if the district didn’t accept the proposal, “it’s not about finances anymore. It’s about ending Gillette College’s programs for a political decision. I hope that’s not the case.”
That was the case, he said Thursday.
“It’s just frustrating. We thought we had a good partner. We don’t. That’s very apparent,” he said. “We brought them a solution, and they told us to pound sand, that it wasn’t good enough. Unacceptable.”
At the very least, he would’ve liked to hear some dialogue and negotiation on the proposal.
Cutting the athletics programs is “an easy way out for the board,” Bell said. It would be easy for the commissioners to cut an entire department, but it takes work to creatively budget to maintain services.
“Campbell County is much different than Sheridan County,” he said. “For them to say, ‘We know how you feel’? They don’t know how we feel.”
Emotions continue to boil over as a turbulent social climate in the United States continues to be roiled by social media, partisan politics, race, law enforcement and an ongoing pandemic that encroaches on personal freedoms.
As the national scene continues to be driven by sometimes-violent protests, anger over how much or little the novel coronavirus has impacted personal liberties and the crucible of social media to inflame them all, this Fourth of July is one locals say they hope helps bring unity to a deeply divided America.
At 93 years young, Gillette resident Marjorie Rainwater said she worries over the vitriol displayed by an internal rift she said is unlike anything she’s seen so far in her lifetime.
“I don’t understand where it’s coming from,” she said.
Cliff Knesel, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said it’s a social division that reminds him of the unrest surrounding that war.
Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said the recent efforts across the nation to eliminate police departments is something that hasn’t been embraced here, but is concerning for all.
Then there’s Jackson Voigt, a recent high school graduate who’s looking forward to voting for the first time in local and national elections.
Watching as the United States seems to be deeply divided on many levels has been “kind of scary” and that the political and social schism “is pretty concerning, because if it’s not solved soon, it’s going to fall on my generation to solve it.”
While much of what has divided the nation and prompted protests and shutdowns hasn’t impacted Gillette to a large degree, the city isn’t immune. Local social media groups are blazing with politically charged debates and the City Council and mayor have been targeted with protests and calls to resign over the resignation of a former councilman.
As the community comes together to celebrate the Fourth of July and mark the 243rd birthday of the United States of America, these and other local people reflect on an unprecedented time for their nation.
Longtime Gillette resident
People not getting along is a theme that goes back to the beginning of the human race.
But sometimes it can get a little out of hand, and the difficulties of 2020 so far have made this year a hotbed for political divisiveness that's devolved to a point that even surprises many who have seen more than most.
That includes 93-year-old Gillette resident Marjorie Rainwater.
“I am concerned," she said about the divisions that have been magnified by a global pandemic.
"I am not concerned for myself," Rainwater said. "I had a wonderful life, but for my family, for my friends, for my whole country. I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t understand where it’s coming from.
“I know we’re in living in Wyoming and we don’t have all of that, but who knows when it’s going to spread. I do not know why people are doing what they are doing.”
Rainwater is referring to growing political unrest, protests and rioting across the United States, especially those taking place after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who had a knee held against his neck by a white Minneapolis police officer during an arrest in May. Floyd died as a result.
That was not right and those responsible need to be punished, she said. But people responding by acting “totally lawless" is not going to accomplish anything
“I’d hate to leave this world before it’s straightened out,” Rainwater said. “I just can’t understand people who are mad without any reason.”
She said she is especially worried because people are tearing down monuments of historic American figures like Ulysses S. Grant and Francis Scott Key because they represent socially unacceptable or offensive ideas despite their importance to the country's history.
“It’s concerning because I don’t know what they’re doing,” Rainwater said. “I don’t know who they are protesting. They are taking down just anybody. I don’t think they know our history.
“I have friends in different parties and they’re all fair. I’ve been in places where people had different ideas on what should be done, but I’ve never been anywhere where they didn’t think law is important. This is brand new to me."
She also said that it's up to younger generations to fix what's dividing America.
“I don’t know how at my age I can do much about it except pray," Rainwater said. "I sure do enough of that.”
Rainwater said she hopes people can calm down and again be able to have civil discussions with each other even if they disagree.
Everybody should have the right to speak and be listened to, but to physically confront someone just because they have a different opinion is “not American,” she said.
Despite what is happening around the country, Rainwater believes there is hope.
She remembers being in Houston, Texas, when people ridiculed George H.W. Bush for supporting the Fair Housing Act in 1968.
The measure prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental or financing of housing based on a person’s race, religion, national origin, gender, disability and family status.
“They all came because they were going to boo him and give him a hard time, but after he explained why he thought people should be allowed to buy whatever they wanted to, no matter their color, they all stood up and applauded,” Rainwater said. “All we have to do is let the American people know that we have laws and we are all people no matter what color we are, and people will come around to fairness and I think it will work out in the end.”
— Gregory Hasman
The unrest gripping much of America now is nothing new for Gillette resident Cliff Knesel Jr., a 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran who served in the Army from 1967 to 1971.
Toward the end of his time in the service, Knesel said he was sent as part of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division to the 1971 May Day Protests in Washington, D.C.
Even then nearly five decades ago, shades of today’s social and political unrest were present, he said.
“Yeah, I’m familiar with what’s going on right now,” Knesel said. “Very familiar. I understand the frustration of the police department and the national guard, I really do.”
Then, young police officers clashed with young protesters, he said. Garbage and bottles turned into projectiles.
As part of a large-scale military response to the protests, Knesel said he watched chaos unfold and ultimately, the masses of demonstrators dispersed.
Then, protestors showed up in opposition of the war in Vietnam.
Today's protests are for change on American soil, specifically regarding issues of race and police reform, all firmly grounded in the political tension of an election year. Add the social unrest and debate over personal freedoms sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and you have a hotbed of unrest.
“I don’t believe in police defunding at all,” Knesel said. “I believe that there have been some mistakes made and those mistakes, in any business, have to be corrected.”
Knesel agrees that police reform is needed, but he does not see value in overhauling the system. He is in favor of police labor union changes that would make it easier to fire officers who "are causing problems” and thinks the chokehold — a controversial technique used by some officers when apprehending suspects — should probably be banned.
Mostly, he said he sees any violence that has come from the protests, which gained momentum after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, as another obstacle to unity.
“I don’t agree with it at all,” Knesel said. “I believe there are other ways to solve the problems. Rioting and violence isn’t the way. I’m glad I live in Gillette, Wyoming.”
Although Gillette did have one night of active demonstrations for the Black Lives Matter movement in early June, that evening remained peaceful. Gillette’s recent unrest has been mostly reserved for its mayor, City Council and social media threads.
The rest of the nation is a different matter.
“There’s no silent majority like in the Vietnam War saying, ‘Hey, let’s come together.’ Until that happens, until the people come together and say enough is enough, it’s going to keep going on the way it is.”
In addition to citizens finding common ground, he said politicians need to step up to bridge some of the divide that seems to be only growing in America.
“I guess if I’d say anything, it’s these politicians in Washington have to come together to resolve this,” he said. “If they don’t, this issue is going to be a problem for a long time.”
Does he believe that will happen?
“No,” he said. “Not right now.”
“Even if they did, I’m not sure they would have a lot of support from the opposite political group, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats. But America is getting fed up with this. It’s just disgusting.”
— Jake Goodrick
Law enforcement officer
Perhaps now more than ever, law enforcement is in the national and local spotlight. The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked protests across the country, including in Gillette.
Across the country, people are advocating for defunding police departments. Efforts have ranged from restructuring the law enforcement system and how it’s funded to disbanding departments altogether.
Campbell County Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds has worked in law enforcement for 24 years.
Reynolds said he doesn’t think defunding police departments is going to lead to better days for those communities.
“It’s not going to work, because people are going to take advantage of that," he said. "With no security, no law enforcement, it’s not going to work out well."
Reyonolds was on duty during the protests in Gillette, which were peaceful. He talked to both sides and “was treated with respect” for the most part.
“There’s always going to be bad people in the world, and you have to have people that are willing to stand up and do what’s right,” he said. “I think that’s why most people get into this line of work, to help other people.”
Reynolds said he was “very upset” when he heard about Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes. In video of the incident, Floyd can be heard telling Chauvin and other officers that he couldn't breathe.
“I don’t agree with his actions,” Reynolds said, adding that, “I’m glad he’s being held accountable.”
Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that one officer’s actions has affected law enforcement around the country.
“It’s one of those things, and it’s always been that way in law enforcement: One cop does something 1,000 miles away from here and it affects us in Gillette,” he said.
While divisiveness has made its way to Gillette, the community is still united in its support for law enforcement, Reynolds said. In Campbell County, police officers and deputies are viewed as members of the community they serve.
“There’s some negative people, but they’re few and far between,” he said. “We’re extremely fortunate to live and work where we do.”
Last week, he was at a restaurant and someone anonymously paid for his family’s dinner.
“Even today, we feel support when we’re out in the community,” Reyonolds said.
As far as the division in the community, Reynolds said he thinks a very small percentage of the community is making most of the noise.
“The greasy wheel always gets the attention,” he said.
“We are one community. We should treat each other with respect,” he said. “The people in Wyoming support each other and work through things. It seems like we always step up to the plate to come up with a plan and idea.”
Reyonolds said he thinks that society as a whole had gotten tired of the restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic and that emotions are a little frayed.
“Living in America, we’ve had so many freedoms our entire lives, and once those freedoms get taken away, people are going to lash out in one way or another,” he said.
He added that a time will come when people will settle down and this “will be a memory, a part of history.”
“Everything comes to an end,” he said. “I just wish there was an end in sight.”
— Jonathan Gallardo
Doug Gerard knows there are divisions in the United States today, perhaps even more than at other stressful times in our nation’s history.
It's not something that surprises him, as it stems from a decline of Christianity, he said.
“How many kids are not taught the Golden Rule these days?” Gerard, 53, asked rhetorically.
The words “Golden Rule” are not found in the Bible, but the phrase is widely accepted as a shorthand for Matthew 7:12, where Jesus teaches to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
That core concept of reciprocity is expressed in many world religions and teachings beyond just Christianity, Gerard said. The divisive and at times violent undertone in America these days is what happens when a society doesn't heed that lesson.
“The biggest divide is that folks forget that the person you’re arguing with is probably a good person,” Gerard said. “You especially see this from the (political) left.”
This is especially when it comes to president Donald Trump, Gerard said.
“If you support President Trump for any reason, you’re a bad person, according to the left,” Gerard said.
He also concedes that the division, if completely distasteful, isn’t necessarily a completely bad thing, at least where the president is concerned.
He said politics have blinded some to discount or even entertain anything Trump has done that's been good for the United States.
“The last 4 years, or 3½ years, he’s been held under a microscope that no other president’s been held under,” Gerard said. “He’s used his platform to distract from what his government’s doing.”
Confirmation of numerous federal judges and agencies reducing the scope of government regulation have been positive things under Trump's watch, he said.
“His only redeeming quality as a politician is that he’s willing to fight back,” Gerard said. “I don’t mind seeing the press — the national press, that is — hoisted on its own petard.”
But Gerard, who in 2016 was a national delegate for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz before he eventually voted from Trump, views his support of the president as a pragmatic choice.
“Do I like Trump? No,” Gerard said. “But do I support him? You bet.”
If the decline of Christianity was at the top of his list of what's dividing the country today, a close second would be what Gerard calls “tribe over truth.”
It also sums up the rift in the nation as, “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us and you’re bad," he said.
Gerard said nobody's to blame for the division and that all sides can claim ownership of it, including his own Republican Party.
He said there seems to be no room for “great political arguments” because disagreement is mistaken for bad intentions.
“The assumption that the other person is a good guy or gal has gone away,” Gerard said. “If you believe differently, you’re bad.”
Even so, he said the divisiveness will work itself out and that “I think we’ll remember our better angels at some point."
A good example is this year's Fourth of July celebration in Gillette, where people came together to make it happen rather than argue about whose fault it was that it originally had been canceled.
“None of that matters for the Fourth of July," Gerard said. "You should be talking about the group that came together to save it.
"I’ve never seen so many come together so quickly, never seen them raise so much money.”
— Cary Littlejohn
Jackson Voigt usually doesn’t watch much news or is outspoken politically.
But he admits it’s becoming more difficult to ignore some of the division that’s happening in America today.
Voigt, a Class of 2020 Thunder Basin High School graduate and salutatorian, is part of a flood of young people who will be able to vote for the first time in this year's upcoming primary and general elections.
Many first-time voters are about to find themselves with a meaningful voice during one of the most turbulent social periods in United States history. There are issues on many fronts, but voting is one of the best ways to make a difference.
“It’s kind of scary, but (voting) is a really good opportunity. It feels like I have more of an opinion,” Voigt said. The political and social divide "is pretty concerning, because if it’s not solved soon, it’s going to fall to my generation to solve it.”
Voigt said that he won’t vote until he does some extensive research, because he doesn’t want to “blindly vote for someone” he doesn’t know much about.
As a young person, Voigt acknowledges that it’s hard to have a strong opinion in today’s society without stepping on someone else’s toes.
“It’s OK to have a strong opinion. It’s just that some people don’t like that,” Voigt said. “You have to be careful who you tell your opinions to nowadays, because you can easily offend someone or offend a group a people.
"But you just have to respect everyone.”
The rioting that has been seen in American cities is one of the topics Voigt said he has a hard time forming a strong opinion on. Growing up in Wyoming, he said he hasn’t seen the police brutality that is being protested, so it’s difficult to completely understand the issue.
“It’s kind of hard for me to have a really strong opinion on that, just because of where we live in Wyoming,” Voigt said. “It doesn’t really happen here much.”
— Miles Englehart
Doug Camblin loves of the Fourth of July.
“What touches my heart during the Fourth of July is that freedom is not free,” Camblin said. “There are millions of people who have lost their lives, been maimed — real bloodshed — for our country.”
His father, Earl, served in the U.S. Army and saw combat in World War II. It’s through this lens that Camblin, 65, considers America’s current divide.
“He lived real division, real hatred,” he said.
America’s divisions have to be viewed in a historical context, which means it must be compared to tumultuous moments in the nation’s history, he said. That includes revolution, civil war and world wars.
“I think we are divided,” Camblin said. “But if you’re a student of history, we have not drawn lines and picked up arms and started shooting our brothers.”
But that doesn’t mean what’s happening across the United States isn’t worthy of attention, Camblin said.
“One of the biggest travesties going on today is the ignoring of law and law enforcement,” he said. “I don’t think the police will actually be defunded. The people pushing for it are people who don’t want to be caught for the illegal stuff they’re doing.”
He sees similarities between the demonstrations against the police and the anti-war demonstrations that happened around the time he graduated from high school. But Camblin doesn’t view today's demonstrations as sincere expressions of principled opposition; rather, they advocate for anarchy.
“I do not believe that it is a grassroots, organic movement,” Camblin said.
He also believes protesters are being paid make a fuss. Add the news media’s coverage of the unrest and you have the division that's happening now, Camblin said.
Social media also has become a powerful force in our lives, Camblin said.
“But like all things in life, there’s good and bad,” he said. “There’s no filter on what’s real and what’s fake news.”
The traditional media has an incentive to “gravitate toward gossip and bad news,” he said, adding the 24-hour news cycle needs to fill lots of time.
“They’re not reporting news,” he said. “They’re reporting their agenda and opinion. I think it’s a huge contributor to the degradation of civility.”
Camblin remembers the days of late-night television when Johnny Carson was king.
“Nearly everybody fell asleep watching Carson,” he said.
But today’s late-night hosts only talk about one subject — President Trump.
“They call him dumb and they call his supporters dumb,” Camblin said. “They’re not implying that, they’re actually saying it.”
As a Trump supporter, that's offensive, he said.
“I support President Trump because what’s my alternative?” Camblin asked rhetorically. “I support him now because I don’t think Joe Biden can put two sentences together or remember what he had for breakfast.”
A return to civility is key, Camblin said.
“We know that there are divisions and those are actually healthy,” he said. “I hope people will come together and hammer out an agreement.”
Too little of that is happening now, as it’s been replaced by a "my-way-or-the-highway mentality,” he said.
“Is it worse than it’s ever been?” he asked. “I really don’t think so. Is it going to get better? I have to hope that it will.”
— Cary Littlejohn
Campbell County’s assessed valuation for 2020 is $4.24 billion, which is a 5% decrease from 2019.
The exact number is $4,242,015,313, and it’s the lowest mark in three years.
County Assessor Troy Clements said the number came in close to what he projected.
“We expected some downturn in the coal (industry),” he said. “We knew oil would be up a little bit.”
Coal makes up 52% of the total valuation at $2.2 billion. That’s down from 55% in 2019 and 59% in 2018.
Oil comes in second with $976.6 million, which is the highest it’s been since 2015, when it was at $1.4 billion.
In terms of production, coal dropped 7.5%, or 21.6 million tons, from 2019 to 266.7 million tons, while oil jumped 20% to 20.5 million barrels. Natural gas production also increased by 11%, but a 26% drop in unit value led to its overall decline of 18%, to $115.2 million.
Together, coal, oil and gas make up $3.29 billion, or 77.6% of the county’s total assessed valuation. In 2019, their total was $3.53 billion, or 79%.
Uranium had the largest drop of any area, going from $9.2 million in 2016 to $238,339 in 2020. It’s a 59% drop from 2019. Uranium is selling at such a low price that it isn’t “productive to sell,” Clements said.
Clements said it’s far too early to tell what 2021’s assessed valuation will be, but he’s seen projections of anywhere between $3.6 billion and $4 billion. Both ends of that range would place Campbell County at its lowest assessed valuation since 2005, when it was $3.6 billion.
The coronavirus pandemic combined with the drop in oil prices and the continued decline in coal production are signs the assessed valuation will continue to fall.
With efforts to turn Campbell County into a hub of carbon research and, hopefully, commercialization of advanced carbon products, Clements said it’s possible that advanced carbon could be part of the county’s assessed valuation in the future.
“It’s certainly going to make up some of the slack in our production in coal, oil and gas,” he said, adding that it’s too early in the process to predict what kind of revenue it could bring in.