County scholarships revisited again

SUBLETTE COUNTY – The Sublette County Board of Commissioners spent over five hours of a serene early-October day in a windowless room deciding what to do next.

The Oct. 5 meeting ran well over the scheduled time because of extended discussion on two recurring items: scholarships and the county’s phone system.

This board talked about revisiting the selection process for scholarships at its spring meetings. And once again discussed it last month. After receiving some feedback from school counselors, it discussed how they want to approach awarding scholarships this academic year.

Commissioners agreed to get rid of the deferral option, as it has proven too nightmarish to track in the county’s budget. Commissioners agreed they’d like to see prospective trade school students considered. Commissioner Doug Vickrey said he would like to see funds go to those who truly need financial assistance. He said he wanted to reward hardworking B and C students. Commissioner Tom Noble once again said switching to a needs-based process would be profiling and that the scholarships should go to valedictorian and salutatorian.

Deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich gave a brief overview of the financial aid process. He brought up the possibility of granting funds to a school and having that school disperse funds to students from Sublette County. After deliberation, commissioners said they’d prefer it go to students so they could choose where to go. This was an item commissioners Vickrey and Noble agreed upon, something the board considered a monumental achievement through chuckles.

The board revisited counselors’ opinions. It was once again brought up to have the counselors decide who the scholarships went to because, as Commissioner White said, the board doesn’t have the time to get in the schools and learn more about the kids. Ultimately, a task force of county clerk Carrie Long, deputy county clerk Jeness Saxton and Melinkovich were assigned to pool options and present them at the next commissioners’ meeting.

Commissioners also took a chunk of the meeting to discuss switching phone services from CenturyLink to Union Wireless. The county recently switched phone services to Union through a third party and now aimed to switch to internet-based phone systems to completely move away from CenturyLink. Commissioner Vickrey said he wanted to look directly at numbers because he had a hard time believing the county’s monthly bill would drop so dramatically by switching.

The board decided to table anything regarding billing or decisions until more information came forward. Long said she hadn’t seen a bill yet from Union and the board wanted more information from the third-party entity before completely severing ties with CenturyLink, at least for the time being.

County attorney Mike Crosson appeared before the board because his office has a job opening. Previously, there have been as many as six attorneys in the county attorney’s office. Now it’s just Crosson and Melinkovich. The attorney’s office is budgeted to fill that position. Crosson also asked for permission to raise pay on that position in order to become a more enticing position.

Commissioners determined that the hiring freeze instituted in the spring no longer applies, as a new budget has been determined. While this isn’t necessary of any department heads as long as positions are within their budget, the board said it would appreciate anyone who comes before them with a staffing update like Crosson did.

As nearly all of the meetings go, last week’s started with an update from the county’s Road & Bridge Department. Billy Pape, Road & Bridge supervisor, said the department is inching closer to normal. At one point, 12 employees were out with COVID-19, one of whom has been battling it for over a month. Pape said this is the first time he’s needed to haul water to blade roads.

Mike Oltman from the U.S. Forest Service was invited to speak before the board during that portion. He said they’ve been granted but have not yet received the $200,000 for improvement projects as laid out by the Great American Outdoors Act.

He said they’d like to next tackle maintenance and improvement on Union Pass and Green River Lake roads. They’d likely be projects done separately and spread over there years. They would not be near county standard, as that would be too financially ambitious and the county would not take responsibility for those roads.

Commissioner Noble recused himself from discussion as Oltman gave a rundown of Clarks Draw Road and Hoback Basin projects. The remaining commissioners liked those plans and approved moving forward. 

Other items:

  • County administrator Matt Gaffney requested $50,000 in Enviroremedial funds for advertising and salary of a new countywide visitor’s center executive director position. He said there’s excitement across the county for the project and a remote presence in the Green River Valley Museum in Big Piney was met with a lot of enthusiasm.
  • Commissioners also approved resolutions to allow the Big Piney Library to operate partially out of the Big Piney Recreation Center and for the library to operate its after-school program through Big Piney Elementary School.
  • Commissioners approved a request for vacation of a subdivision road and utility easement in the Wind River Ranches development. The easement breezed through the county’s planning and zoning committee before coming to the commissioners.
  • Robin Clover of the SAFV Task Force read the resolution for the county recognizing Domestic Violence Awareness Month. She informed the board of her retirement and was thanked for her nearly 21 years of service.
  • Gaffney asked commissioners for permission to advertise for a county sanitarian position. All involved were sad to see Phil Vrska step away but understood his decision.
  • Long went over the new county website powered by OpenGov. It allows for full transparency and shows what government funds are being spent on in the county, even by each department. Those are updated when bills are paid every two weeks.
  • There were two executive sessions during the meeting. One of them gave way to the board granting Gaffney and Melinkovich to work with the insurance company to ensure full compensation for repairs made to the garage used by Rendezvous Pointe that was damaged in a fire. The other gave the Planning & Zoning Department permission to hire a new position. That passed with all but Commissioner Vickrey supporting.