Natrona County Commission Candidates Share Similar Views
The five candidates, including two incumbents, for three Natrona County commissioner seats on the ballot at the Nov. 6 general election agreed on the following at a forum Wednesday evening:
- The Wyoming Legislature should not increase the base sales tax rate to 5 percent from 4 percent.
- The county needs a new library, but the residents must show they want it.
- Face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication with county residents is crucial.
- Many of the county's 800 miles of roads need improvement.
- Renewal of the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax is imperative because it is estimated to raise about $3 million in revenues for county services over the next four years.
- While no one likes taxes, property tax rates generally are fair and low compared to many other cities nationally.
- Private property rights are paramount, and zoning within reason is necessary to protect property values.
- The county has a good working relationship with Casper and the other municipalities.
The candidates often had nuanced responses to questions during the two-hour forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Natrona County Public Library.
But nuance went nil when the lone Democratic candidate Terry Wingerter echoed the others when he bluntly stated: "It all boils down to money."
The other candidates are incumbent Republicans Paul Bertoglio and Rob Hendry, first-place Aug. 21 primary winner Republican Jim Milne, and independent Rick Young. The general election is Nov. 6.
Wingerter touted his experience as a five-term commissioner until he lost four years ago and is trying again.
Bertoglio was appointed to the commission in May 2017, and he pointed to his other government experience of serving on Casper City Council for 17 years.
Hendry was first elected in 2006. The condition of the county's roads prompted him to run in 2006 because his ranch is 76.2 miles from the courthouse and he drives them a lot.
Milne, a former sheriff's deputy, said his concerns over private property rights and increasing zoning regulations were his primary interests in running.
Young, director of the Fort Caspar Museum, said the county could do more to promote tourism's benefits to the economy.
They acknowledged the importance of setting a balanced budget, which has been tough because of the energy industry downturn in 2015, but noted there are signs that it is rebounding.
Hendry said the county's budget then was $53 million, and the current budget is $48 million.
Milne said he's spoken with many county officials who said their departments operate with skeletal staffs.
Young said crafting a budget must be done on a case-by-case basis. "You don't go at it with a sledge hammer."
Providing and maintaining the county's infrastructure -- roads, law enforcement, courts, records and so forth -- remains a top priority.
Road maintenance and construction pose special problems, with Bertoglio saying the county has had difficulty with securing gravel permits from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Constructing one mile of blacktop road costs $1 million, Hendry added.
However, Milne added a twist to the infrastructure issue, saying the county's employees are the ultimate infrastructure. "If you don't have employees, you don't have roads, you don't have library, you don't have anything."
He and Young said the employees need better compensation or they will look elsewhere for work, with Young adding they should not be at-will employees.
They also generally disliked the "civility resolution" commissioners approved four years ago that limited people to no more than three minutes to speak during public comment portions of commission meetings.
While some residents may get out of hand with their talking during public comment periods, the candidates said their job as commissioners is to listen.