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November 22, 2012     Lovell Chronicle
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November 22, 2012
 

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61The Lovell Chronicle I November 22, 2012 Byron group offers clarification on finances, goals BY BOB RODRIGUEZ A Byron development group instituted by the town government and the town's Recreation Dept. are ada- mant in stating that due to misunderstandings leading to erroneous information, some residents mistakenly believe that the town's "tax dollars" have been and are going to a private business that owns the former Byron School. Among other accusa- tions is a statement that the Byron Cemetery Dis- trict was "pressured" into making a donation to the Rec Dept. Similar charges involving contentions about potentially illegal use of tax dollars also have been fed into the public forum via letters to the editor and an anonymous flyer distribut- ed to residents. While undertaking steps to clarify the situation and refute the sometimes anonymous allegations, members of the citizens or- ganization, Eagle Rock De- velopment Group, and the Rec Dept. are continuing their efforts. One aim is to provide a number of recre- ational and other programs for residents of all ages fi"om Byron and surround- ing communities in por- tions of the former school, which the Rec Dept. is leas- ing from Postern Capital. Another hope of Eagle Rock is that business tenants can be brought into the site by Postern to help boost the economy and provide jobs. In fact, the kitchen al- ready is leased and in use by a Byron company, Cow- boys & Cooks Catering. Under a lease the Rec Dept. is paying the compa- ny $300 per month for use of the weight room, audito- rium with stadium seating, gymnasium with its bas- ketball court, Olympic-size swimming pool, cafeteria and two rooms upstairs rep- resenting a third of the for- mer school. The rent, which began as of September, in- cludes utilities. Jeff Noall, site manager for Postern, said that the monthly fee "doesn't come close" to pay- ing the bills. He noted that Postern's owner, Georgia resident Alex J. Campos, had paid for the utilities through spring and summer and will continue "because of his commitment to coop- erate with and help support the community for a good neighbor relationship." During an interview at the former school's board meeting room, Noall and newly elected town coun- cil member Pam Hopkinson said Friday, Nov, 16, that Campos also has allowed fees for facility usage to be given to the Rec Dept. For example, some groups have used the cafeteria or oth- er facilities and paid a fee, a wedding was held at the site and there was a Cinco de Mayo celebration. 'NO TAX MONEY USED,' FORMER CLERK SAYS There also have been other community events, such as open gym, show- ings of old movies, vari- ous family type events in- cluding craft sessions, plus a haunted house this past Halloween. Also, Postern is allowing the town to place its Christmas display in front of the former school. Besides Noall and Hopkin- son the informal interview was attended by her hus- band, Glen, and Jack Hes- senthaler, whose wife, Syd- ney, was elected to the town council Nov. 6. Other than Noall, all the others are among members of the citi- zens economic development group that has become Ea- gle Rock. Regarding the alleged use of tax monies by some, former Town Clerk Vicki Gibson stated unequivo- cally on Saturday, Nov. 17: "No. Absolutely not." Gibson, a Powell resident, devoted five years of em- ployment to Byron. (A sto- ry about her resignation is elsewhere in this issue). Gibson's unmistak- able rejection of comments that town tax dollars have ever been spent on a pri- vate business are echoed by Jeanie Petrich, Byron's volunteer recreation direc- tor. "No public money" is involved, she said Nov. 17. Petrich and others also feel that some are focusing too much on the rec programs at the former school. They note that other programs are being conducted such as field trips for youth, as well as activities and events elsewhere in the communi- ty when weather permits. Concerning the ceme- tery district funding, dis- trict board President Don Hatch said Nov. 17 that "ap- proximately $30,000" was provided in May 2011. The donation, Hatch said, was made to the Town of Byron for the Rec Dept. He agreed with a statement by Pet- rich, who explained that, "There was no pressure; we just asked the board if it could provide a donation to buy equipment." It was, she outlined, simply a matter of a private citizen serving as a rec volunteer and not a member of the economic de- velopment group seeing if a donation could be made. A fact sheet provided by Eagle Rock states that the cemetery board found that it had funds available that could be contributed to the community "as in the past toward the town's annual fireworks show." The do- nation was used by the Rec Dept. to purchase weight/ exercise room equipment that "belong exclusively to the Town of Byron." There is no charge for use of the equipment in the weight room at the former school, although there has been discussion about some sort of membership fee. Some of the conten- tiousness revolving around the former school seems to include the town selling the site to Postern after it was deeded to the town by Big Horn County School Dis- trict One, also the subse- quent lease for use of parts of the former school for some of the town's rec pro- grams due to the accusation that "tax dollars" are being expended, and the "pressur- ing" contention regarding the donation in the neigh- borhood of $30,000. Another aspect is linked to the town council OK'ing $7,000 to be spent, it is alleged by some, to sup- port "a private business," namely the Postern hold- ing in Byron. But the fund- ing was added from budget- ed monies to the Rec Dept. budget in a move led by the former mayor because its budget had been reduced during the past several years, Eagle Rock officials said. It was not new mon- ey, but represented a trans- fer of funds from categories including the town museum to recreation. Pam Hopkinson com- mented last week on a statement by the former mayor that a group sup- porting the town's financial participation in the build- ing was successful in elect- ing her and Sydney Hes- senthaler to the council. No such participation has been requested, Hopkin- son stressed, while indicat- ing that no such action is in mind. The Hopkinsons, Jack Hessenthaler and Noall feel that the town already has benefited financially from the purchase of the facil- ity by Campos. Items in- clude the purchase price of $70,000 and the fact that the former school now is on the tax rolls whereas as a school it was exempt. They also firmly believe that re- taining the huge facility in- stead of demolishing it, as some wanted, is a potential economic gold mine for the town and a central location for residents and others for a variety of events. Petrich, Eagle Rock and others also point out that funding for recreation comes annually through School District One based on the number of students from Byron who attended district schools during the previous year. Additionally, they say, several businesses in town have donated fairly hefty amounts of money to fund rec activities. "That's where we're get- ting our funding," remarked Petrich. She and Hopkinson are among volunteers who are highly complimentary of all the other citizens who donate their time to help run rec programs. Approximately 30 months of discussion marked with controversy during town hall meetings preceded a vote on Aug. 23, 2011, for the town to take ownership of the for- mer school from School Dis- trict One. Some town res- idents were strongly in favor of taking ownership, while others were dead set against it. Some wanted the building razed, saying that ownership would cost the town lots of money for maintenance and repairs. When the vote was called for on whether to assume ownership, former Mayor Bret George and Council- man Dennis Cozens were against the motion. Subsequently, an of- fer to purchase the build- ing with its some 95,000 square feet of space and its approximately 7 acres, was approved 5-0 by the mayor and council during a special meeting in the town com- plex on Jan. 27 this year. The price was $70,000, al- though Campos had offered more several months ear- lier. Approving the sales agreement was delayed for quite some time by the mayor and council because of concerns with contract language. Due to changes and concessions made by Campos the price dropped to what the council ulti- mately agreed upon. POOL MIGHT OPEN FOR BYRON DAYS Campos at first said through Noall that part of the building would become a telephone call center that would employ up to 100 per- sons. However, that plan was dropped, said Noall ear- lier this year and on Nov. 16, due to difficulties with the arch's employment base and paying the wages that would be required. He now is working to find Byron area tenants such as "mom-and-pop busi- nesses." Additionally, he has instituted a Postern Capital website that provides infor- mation on renting space. Reports that the swim- ming pool is in bad condi- tion needing extensive, ex- pensive repairs were denied by Noall and Eagle Rock members Nov. 16. "An in- dependent engineering firm has prepared an extensive report on the pool condi- tion," it was stated. "Once two drain covers in the bot- tom of the pool are replaced, the pool could be up and running immediately." As well, reports of other major faults and unsafe structur- al conditions at the site also are false, they said. With the finding that the pool opening could be accomplished without un- due hardship, it is believed by supporters that it could be open in time for Byron Days in July. Those interviewed Nov. 16 also broached another fi- nancial topic that caused some controversy. There was a feeling that $500,000 worth of tax funds would be spent to renovate and op- erate the pool "in a private building." The reference, it was explained, involved the defeated proposal for a 6th-cent tax. It actually is a moot point because the lease with Campos wasn't signed until after the dead- line for the 6th-cent propos- al, but the group wanted to clarify the matter. A note from the Town of Lovell Byron clerk, zoning aide quit; both cite 'time right' to retire BY BOB RODRIGUEZ The Byron Town Coun- cil meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13, included considerably more than business as usu- al with the resignations of Vicki Gibson as clerk/trea- surer, Jeanna Wassmer as planning/zoning adminstra- tor and Bret George as may- or. (A story about the latter was in last week's issue). During her tenure as clerk/treasurer for the past five years, Gibson, who re- signed as of Nov. 12, said she "tried to keep an ex- tremely positive atmo- sphere at the Town Hall and have done what I can to encourage unity in the community." So Gibson noted in her letter of resignation to the mayor and council. Because George resigned as mayor the same day, "some peo- ple might misunderstand, but it is not part of a master plan; that's not how it came about," said Gibson on Sat- urday, Nov. 18. "The mayor has known for some time of my desires to move on and the time clearly has been evident to me in the last few weeks," she stated in her letter. She added that, "I appreciate the opportunities that this position has offered me. The past five years have brought many challenges and changes in the commu- nity and I understand that change is not always easy. I wish the council and the town success as you move into the future." Gibson also explained that she is leaving the town "in very capable hands, as it has been central to me that when I (would) go, I would have someone trained prior to leaving. I came into this position pretty much clue- less as to how local govern- ment worked. Donna Booth (hired earlier this year) owns her job and is one of the hardest, most conscien- tious and honest persons that I have had the priv- ilege and opportunity to work with." The outgoing clerk said that she wanted to ensure that Booth was fully pre- pared for the job before she took her leave. "I would never leave the town in a lurch," she stated. She add- ed in her letter, "If I can be of assistance in the tran- sition, she (Booth) knows that I will only be a phone call away." Gibson, a Powell resi- dent, said Saturday that she "thoroughly enjoyed her job and is not leaving on bad terms. I've been want- ing to retire" and the time came, she indicated. Wassmer has worked as an independent contrac- tor for the town during the past 2 1/2 years. She said Monday, Nov. 19, that she resigned the appointive po- sition "because I felt it was time and I decided to do it. I have kids" and they and other obligations are keep- ing her busy in many direc- tions. She added that she enjoyed working with the council and the town. Wassmer also ex- pressed her feeling that the town might be heading "in a different direction" in a reference to the Nov. 6 elec- tion of Pam Hopkinson and Sydney Hessenthaler to the council. Also, Wassmer not- ed that due to changes in Title 11, "which is the area I work in," she made the decision to leave. Title 11, she said, is a land-use ordi- nance "on zoning and how land can be used." Thanksgiving Garbage Route Schedule Thursday, Nov. 22 garbage route will be picked up on Wednesday, Nov. 21 and Friday's route will be picked up Monday, Nov. 26. 00ron for the wonderful meals you provided during the 6eneral Elecfion. Your generosity and thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated. Big Horn County Clerk Election Judges of Byron The Lovell Chronicle office will be closed Thursday and Friday, Nov. 22 & 23. Deadline for Nov. 29 issue is Tuesday, Nov. 27, at noon. Janls Beal Women's : ketball Coach M I N G If:you spent any time on the bleachers at Lovell H School from 1997-200|, you probably saw Janis in action. She was ! of the state champion volleyball and basketball teams: She livesin Poweil and plants roses around her home because she'saRose City: gid at hea. Northwest is ]anis' college, f t