Bill Krompel looks back on 24 years as commissioner...
Bill Krompel's desk looks like it always does, covered with documents. An industrial-strength hand-held calculator serves double duty as a paperweight. On a cabinet off to the side, scroll after scroll of rolled up maps and plans rest in balanced stacks.
This will all have to be cleaned up over the next five weeks. Krompel, after six terms and 24 years as a Carbon County commissioner, is retiring.
Now is the time to reflect on all those years in office, the changes he has seen and the changes he has helped to cause.
He says that what got him into politics in the first place was a desire for change that he shared with many of his neighbors in the rural county. "We weren't happy with the services, particularly roads," he recalls. The political involvement evolved from his discussions with neighbors, especially a delegation of ladies who persuaded him to throw his hat in the ring for the commission race in 1986.
"When you're running for the first time, you're in blissful ignorance," he laughs as he talks about the first campaign. There were hurdles of the county convention, a primary election and finally a tough campaign against Bob Etzel, who was running as an independent. Krompel managed to win. He took his commission seat in January 1987.
At 37, he was the youngest of the three commissioners. "Lee Semken and Guido Rachiele were old enough to be my fathers," he recalls. "I enjoyed working with them and learning from their experience."
One of the things he learned early was the reason for county services wasn't a matter of poor performance on the part of county workers. "We had good people but they didn't have equipment and materials to do the jobs. There was a $500,000 deficit in the general fund and we were at the maximum tax rate. You can't provide public infrastructure unless you come up with the funds for it."
One way to come up with funds was to tap into federal mineral lease money which was supposed to be set aside for areas of the state impacted by energy development. That was not happening. "The state was taking all the mineral lease money and allocating it for projects in non-energy areas," he says.
Krompel was part of a five-county delegation that set out to lobby the state government to turn that policy around. For two years, he and representatives from Uintah, Duchesne, Emery and San Juan counties took their case to the legislature and got no results.
Finally, each county decided to pool $10,000 apiece and hire a lawyer to sue the state. But before things went that far, the consortium paid a visit to Gov. Norman Bangerter to see if the executive branch could exert some pressure to avoid litigation. It worked.
The counties got legislation to phase in a share of the mineral lease money for the energy-impacted counties. The first dollars began rolling in in 1989. Today the counties get 20 percent of the federal mineral lease money, the state gets 30 percent and the feds retain half.
Visible results of that effort today include the new Senior Center, Events Center, Carbonville Road improvements, the revamped county ballfields, the East Carbon walking trail - and this list goes on. Krompel says the mineral lease funds have brought improvements to every community in the county and in places where there are no communities as well.
There has been more than grant-writing over the years, though. There have been battles and tough choices.
One of those conflicts - the proposed Gooseberry Narrows Project - is still going on. Sanpete County wants to build a dam and reservoir that would block 5,400 acre feet of water a year from flowing into Scofield Reservoir. In dry years, that could be disastrous to Carbon County. Krompel has not been alone in voicing opposition.
Agricultural, industrial and municipal users of the Price River have been fighting a unified battle against the project for decades now. However, Krompel does recall doing his part to keep the project on hold during the tenure of Gov. Jon Huntsman.
Supporters of the project had been lobbying the governor's office and the legislature to secure state funds for the multimillion-dollar project, but Huntsman did not want to make any decision until he had heard from both sides of the issue. The governor solicited a report on the potential impact of the project on Carbon County, and Krompel wrote it.
He has also been responsible for the landfill over the years. There is only so much land off Airport Road for burying junk, so over the years the county has adopted a recycling program that will probably extend the life of the landfill for generations, Krompel notes. Metal, tires, car batteries are all taken away for scrap instead of being buried. Soon the county will have a new portable crusher to smash concrete and asphalt for road base.
Matching grants from the Federal Aviation Administration have helped lengthen the airport runway, add an instrument landing system and a helipad. Some 800 corporate jet landings and takeoffs now happen at the county facility, Krompel says.
None of these things would be possible, the commissioner emphasizes, without the career workers at the county. "The successes have been because this is an organization of people with special skills. Look at what we have: attorneys, engineers, surveyors...all kinds of talent," he declares.
Those employees will still be there after his term expires at the end of December.
When asked what challenges face future commissions, Krompel is direct: keep the budget in the black. Having had the experience of trying to govern from a half-million-dollar deficit and then with a $12.7 million cushion this year, he says he'd much rather deal with the financial situation today.
That surplus may look big, he admits, but warns that it could shrink quickly depending on the energy markets. Right now, for example, the natural gas market is soft. Where natural gas was selling last year for $3.50 to $3.75 per thousand cubic feet, it's down around $2.00 now. Anadarko, which has permits for 12 more wells, won't be drilling any. The decline in prices is also going to affect mineral lease revenues as well, Krompel advises.
Finally, the commissioner reminisces about the times he has been criticized for his positions and decisions. "I've learned there will be times when it's a hot seat and you get criticized. But I've found that people will respect you if you let them know what your principles are and that you're making your decision on those principles."