Carbon leaders, residents explore county economic status
|Carbon County Commissioner Bill Krompel and fairgrounds manager Rhonda Peterson show how proposed improvements will change the county fairgrounds. County projects are among many that have are dependant on mineral lease monies as a funding source.|
While Carbon County appears to be experiencing a period of economic prosperity, community leaders reminded citizens last week that many sources of funding for local government are in the form of revenue which could dry up at any time.
"We're pretty well allocated out for 2006 and most of 2007," said Carbon County Commissioner Michael Milovich at a community economic development public input meeting last Thursday evening at Creekview Elementary School.
Delynn Fielding, Carbon economic development director, encouraged county residents and local leaders to consider the value of proposed projects.
After minerals are gone and the money is spent, Fielding asked whether the county will have frittered away its birthright or built something beneficial for future generations?
A significant amount of the money made available in the past few years to the county has been in the form of mineral lease revenues, noted Milovich.
Dollar amounts that have been available to the county were high in 2005 because of the price of gasoline.
However, as the prices begin to fall, entities looking to benefit from energy-related funds should expect to see funds drop.
Various local officials, including Milovich, sit on the state panel that oversees much of the energy related funds that filter into the county, the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board. The CIB distributes millions of dollars annually.
The other significant source of the mineral lease royalty funds is run on a local level by the Carbon County Recreation and Transportation Special Service District.
Counties in the state that do not benefit from the energy royalties attempt every year to get the Utah Legislature to redistribute the funds to the areas, pointed out Milovich. And with a stroke of a pen, the mineral lease funding could be gone.
"Don't spend it before it gets here," said Milovich.
Many of the issues that county and other elected officials face relate directly to the funds that the county has benefited from during the past few years.
For example, the gas industry is changing in the area. Energy industry officials report that production in the Drunkards Wash area has been declining. As a result, officials are looking for another resource that will replace it once production halts in the region.
County leaders look to the Nine Mile Canyon region as such an area.
Last year, hundreds of wells in the Drunkards Wash area produced 108 million cubic feet of gas per day.
With 16 wells in operation at the site, Bill Barrett Corporation has reported production levels of 53 million cubic feet per day near Nine Mile Canyon.
Milovich pointed out that most of the county projects currently in progress have increased by 25 percent before work begins.
Local community leaders and local officials addressed a variety of improvements around the county. Some are well into construction phases and others are still in the conceptual stage. Many of the project are using or are planning to use CIB and special service district funds to finance work.
One project that is in the conceptual stage is a proposal by the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum to build a garden of prehistoric plants that would have existed millions of years ago in the Castle Valley region. Reece Barrick, director of the museum said the facility would be the largest mesozoic garden in the world and the first of its kind in the United States.
The project is still in its early planning stages and many issues relating to whether it will materialize are still very much in the air. Still, project planners estimate that the cost would be approximately $4.3 million. That would cover the costs for the greenhouse and plants, surrounding land and parking.
Project planners noted that the facility would have a unique educational and research value that would draw outside visitors into the area. Barrick estimated that the garden would attract as many as 80,000 to 100,000 visitors annually to the region, translating into millions of dollars in economic benefit to the area
Price Mayor Joe Piccolo gave an update on the community arts foundation that was conceived more than a year ago. At this time last year, the foundation looked like it was a sure thing. However, Piccolo said plans have been upset.
"The foundation has had a bit of a struggle," said the mayor, without elaborating into details.
He said that until the foundation can become functional, an arts board has been created with oversight from Price city. At present, that board is being formed and community leaders are looking for representatives to sit on the board.
The first challenge board members will face is creating a vision of that the board hopes to accomplish and create bylaws. Once the board is operational, Piccolo said the goal is to operate and maintain around 20 pieces of outdoor art around the community.
In previous discussions regarding the foundation, the mayor said the foundation would likely oversee the raptor north of the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum and the kokopelli sculpture at 100 West and Main Street in Price. There have been discussions of other pieces that are already standing that the foundation could oversee. The foundation could administer other works as they are created.
"I'd like to see the outdoor art pieces spread from Scofield to East Carbon," said Piccolo. He said the purpose of the board was to create a foundation that would cross political boundaries and work to maintain art in all of the communities in the Carbon County area.
For now, those responsibilities will be left up to the city board. Many questions, including which pieces the board will administer are up in the air until the board solidifies. Piccolo said he hopes the board's responsibilities are taken over by the foundation at a later date.
He also said that there has been some interest in creating a fund that could be used for commissioning new pieces. Piccolo said that sum could grow in his estimation to $200,000 at any given time and would be funded primarily by private donors. the mayor also explained that one donor has already contributed to that cause.
Susan Polster and Jeannie McEvoy gave an update on the progress of the the community playground at Terrace Hills Park in Price, which will cover a half acre and climb to two stories in some areas. Polster and McEvoy are both on the planning committee for the playground. The design features themes from the area and separate areas for toddlers and older kids. The playground community is currently looking for grants and donations to cover the $170,000 price tag associated with construction.
Carbon County Recreation Director Steve Christensen confirmed a question that was settled some years ago when community officials explored the option of connecting helper and Price with a parkway along Price River. Christensen said that approximately 130 land owners stand in the way of the parkway becoming a reality. He explained that eminent domain laws have changed after the legislative session and recent court decisions. As a result, the parkway may become easier to develop.
Christensen noted that while any plans for the parkway remain on hold, the county's multi-use trail is in the development process and is likely to become a reality much sooner.
Helper Mayor Mike Dalpiaz gave an update on various projects happening within his city.
"We have a pool project, and it's underfunded," said the mayor, beginning with one of the larger projects happening in Helper.
The pool, originally estimated to cost just under the $1 million mark has now grown to more the $1.2 million, and is likely to grow to at least $1.3 million before it's finished.
The city has faced trouble after demolition crews unearthed a second pool below the one they went in to remove. Questions about ground stability led city officials to explore other options. Space constraints limit the city's ability to build the pool farther north in the park. Soil conditions ruled out another option farther up the hill by the city's cemetery. As a result, the city is back to where it started. The pool will be built where the old pool and tennis courts stood.
Dalpiaz said the Rio Theater is up and running. in the past couple of months, the city facility has hosted performances by Carbon High School's jazz band and drum line as well as presentations by community story tellers and professional writers.
He addressed questions that were raised last year when Helper revealed that it may be forced to default on funding from the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development in the form of a community development block grant.
Dalpiaz said that after discussion with fund administrators, agreements have been reached regarding the payback of the funds, which were originally awarded as a grant.
The theater is more than 80 percent finished, said the mayor. He said that getting performances into the theater was a priority which would help alleviate the financial burden to the city.
The mayor also reported that the car show which was looking to be canceled for various reasons. In conjunction with the Fathers' Day event, the city will host a fundraiser to generate revenue for the city's proposed pool. Dalpiaz said that Carbon County's Recreation and Transportation Special Service District has agreed to fund a portion of the pool project and community leaders hope the fundraiser will offset a large portion of the unmet balance.
Another annual event, in the city, the Helper Arts Festival is well into the planning stages, said the mayor.
"The art's festival is going to be bigger than last year," he said.
Higher than expected bids caused delays in a proposed expansion to the Western Mining and Railroad Museum. The project was originally conceived when museum staff wanted to add an elevator to the facility in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dalpiaz said that museum officials have secured awards amounting to approximately half of the balance. An additional three grants are in the works in an attempt to generate additional funds.
County Commissioner Bill Krompel reported on the status of around $20 million in county projects, most of which are funded in whole or in part by either the CIB or the Carbon County Recreation and Transportation Special Service District.
Krompel said an engineering study has been completed on the road through Nine Mile Canyon. That study was funded by Bill Barret Corp. at a cost of more than $30,000. In April, the recreation and transportation special service district will meet to discuss how to proceed in light of data presented by the study. Krompel said that Barrett has committed $1 million toward road improvement in Nine Mile Canyon in 2006.
In the same region of the county, Hunt Oil deeded a right of way to the county last year that will give the public access to many acres of public land on the West Tavaputs Plateau.
Closer to the more populated areas, the county is moving forward with the Carbonville Road reconstruction, funded largely with funds from the Utah Joint Highway Committee. With the state funding $4.5 million of the project, the county is providing just seven percent of the total cost, said Krompel.
Phase one of the road reconstruction is expected to be completed by April of 2007. The commissioner also explained that approximately $117,000 has been spent in Price in relation to the reconstruction project. Those improvement include the realignment of two intersections, first at Westwood Blvd. and Fairgrounds Road and second at Carbonville Road and Main Street. Other improvement include an ADA accessible sidewalk connecting Westwood with Price, where approximately $500,000 will be spent on curb, gutter and sidewalk.
The Carbon County Airport will receive the benefit of roughly $14 million in federal aviation grants. The county boasts the third longest runway in the state, said Krompel. The airfield contributes an estimated $4 million in economic benefit to the county. Portions of the grants will be used for the installation of instrument-guided landing equipment. Additional runway improvements will add to the safety of the runway.
At the fairgrounds, the softball fields were improved last year. After completing the work last year, softball teams will enjoy the renovated fields this year. County officials will wait until next year to improve restrooms and build an announcer booth.
CIB funds totaling $2 million will fund the construction of the county exhibition center. While funds have already been allocated, county officials noted that costs rise. Like many of the planned improvements around the county, the county may see dramatic increases in cost before construction begins on the facility.
The building will be an addition to the community center already constructed at the county fairgrounds and be capable of hosting a variety of recreational, industrial or other exhibitions.
Milovich said that designs have just been completed. The center is currently planned with 34,000 square feet of floor space that can be subdivided into four separate areas.
The commissioner declared upfront that certain rumors about the facility are false. The facility will be fully wired with Internet access and cooking facilities. It is designed to bu a multi-use facility that will be able to host a variety of events, from sports competitions to exhibitions.
County officials said that they are planning enough parking for 5,000 vehicles. However, they noted that hotels in surrounding communities will only provide beds for a fraction of that number of people.
Other improvements at the fairgrounds include a five-acre fish pond that will be stocked by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. In addition to anglers, users of non-motorized watercraft will be able to use the facility.
The county road shop is moving forward. Costing $2.3 million in CIB funds, the facility will be a state-of-the-art improvement, said Milovich. The facility will have fiber optic cable lines and high-speed Internet access which can be used to expand communications systems for county workers at a later date.
The county ambulance garage is under construction on Airport Road. Milovich said the 14,000 square foot facility will serve multiple uses.
Temperature-sensitive electronic voting equipment will be stored in a controlled environment. The southwest end of the building will be used a communications center. The northwest end will be used for sleeping and housing facilities for EMTs. The second story will be fitted with a complete emergency response and secondary communications center. In the event that the state's Public Safety Dispatch becomes nonoperational, the facility at the ambulance garage can resume its role. An emergency power system will allow the facility to continue operations in an emergency.
Commissioners also gave an update on the North Springs Shooting and Recreation Area, revealing that the county has experienced a series of problems with the planning and design of the project. For example, county officials explained that an easement by ConocoPhillips extends into one of the originally planned ranges. County officials said they had developed a solution and were working to resolve the issue of land rights.
As a result of the various setbacks, the county is prioritizing the facilities that will be constructed. Also as a result of the delays, the county has been unable to secure bonds related to the project and the CIB is withholding funding until bonding issues can be cleared up.
As of last week, the project was estimated to cost $2.5 million. Milovich explained that the figure continues to climb. Plans for the shooting center include a long range shooting range, cowboy and live-action ranges and a police training range.