SHERIDAN — Four candidates have stepped to the line in the race for Board of County Commissioners. Only three will win, and the decision will be made in the primary Aug. 19, making voter turnout critical in an election that typically sees low participation.
Ranchester resident Dennis Fox said he is challenging incumbent commissioners Terry Cram, Steve Maier and Bob Rolston to give people a choice and to represent residents who want lower taxes.
Cram, Maier and Rolston each said they have done a good job in the role but there is work they still want to accomplish, including revising the county’s comprehensive plan, improving air service and continuing to preserve county land and values.
Why they’re running
Each candidate has his own reasons for stepping to the line. In their own words, these include:
• Cram: “There’s still some things that need to be done, and I think the re-visiting of our land use plan is a big thing. It’s been several years since we put it together with the help of the community, and it’s good business to go back and check to see if the attitudes have changed any, if there’s new things that people think ought to be addressed or if there’s things we’ve been addressing that people would rather we didn’t address.”
• Rolston: “I just enjoy doing the work to be able to come in and represent the citizens and see to it that we do maintain a good viable economy and the kind of life we want to live here in Sheridan County.
“That’s a broad statement. There’s some people that, from day to day they say, ‘Well, life isn’t all that good for me,’ but it’s all in how you look at it.”
• Maier: “First of all, we’ve done a good job. I think this group of commissioners have gone through a lot and had a steady hand in terms of the county both during a boom and during a downturn that I think has not had a dire effect on county services. … That’s one reason. The other one is, I enjoy the job. I enjoy meeting the people from throughout Sheridan County, and I enjoy the policy issues that come up.
• Fox: “If I had not chosen to run, we would have no choice. The three incumbents would have filled the seats unchallenged, and I wanted to give voters a choice, an option. … Every time we have any kind of a tax vote, 33 to 53 or 55 percent of voters have consistently come down on the ‘I want lower taxes’ side, and I want to represent them. I want to be the pro low-tax voice on the board.”
What they’ve accomplished
Rolston, who has served two four-year terms and is seeking his third, said that everyday upkeep of county roads, law enforcement and infrastructure should not be overlooked as accomplishments, especially given the economic squeeze in the past five years. He said he is glad the county was able to store up reserves when the economy was booming and that the commissioners had the foresight to complete significant infrastructure maintenance before funding dwindled.
Rolston served on the Lake DeSmet Counties Coalition Joint Powers Board and was glad to see the transfer of lake ownership to Johnson County. He said that transfer was beneficial to Sheridan County because it removed liability for the lake while maintaining some water rights for county residents and county use. Rolston also noted the comprehensive plan as an accomplishment.
In a nod to the commissioners’ willingness to work with residents to resolve problems, Maier said he considered the formation of the Three Poles Recreation Area a positive accomplishment. He said with little investment from the county, commissioners worked with the Public Land Users Committee to resolve issues caused by off-road recreationists to find a long-term solution.
Maier also noted the comprehensive plan, wise planning for booms and busts, ongoing protection of county land and values and the ability to do more with less as accomplishments of the current board.
Cram. who has served two four-year terms and one two-year term on county commission, considered noteworthy his work in co-founding the Sheridan Community Land Trust and the board’s formation of the Sheridan Area Rural Fire District and the county recreation board, which allows the commissioners to enforce rules to protect recreational areas like Kleenburn and Three Poles.
Cram also said the current commission created the county website and took several steps toward conservation including creating a groundwater protection area, a conservation zone along the face of the Bighorns and rezoning 10,000 acres of land, mainly around Dayton, from residental back to agricultural. He is especially proud of the comprehensive plan and the commissioner’s work to accomplish its goals.
While Fox has not held public office, he highlighted his work to help eliminate the food tax and his campaigns against the bond issue for Sheridan College last August and the Capital Facilities Tax last fall as accomplishments in the political realm.
What they hope to address
At its core, Fox’s campaign is about choice and balance. He said he would not mind being the only ‘no’ vote on issues to come before the Board of County Commissioners because there are five commissioners so there can be several voices.
“I am center to fiscally conservative right, and I think that’s healthy for the board. I think it’s good to have discussion,” Fox said.
Coming in as a challenger, Fox does have certain issues he would like to address on the commission.
As a self-described “budget hawk,” he would like to do a top to bottom budget review and reduce the overall county budget by 10 percent over a five-year period, or 2 percent per year. He said this should not be considered a loss of income for the county because it is the taxpayer’s money and is an increase in income for residents.
As one who favors lower taxes, Fox said he would like to see the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax revoked. He said he would work with nonprofits and social service organizations to wean them off of using one-cent tax funds for operational support over several years.
As far as the day-to-day decisions regarding conditional use permits and regulations, Fox said he will always err on the side of private property rights.
Maier said he would like to continue to preserve resident values of land, water and air quality by continuing to implement the comprehensive plan. He said he would like to see slow growth in the county that residents are comfortable with by bringing in businesses that are friendly to county values. He would like to see the business park at the airport expand and thrive and will also work on bringing reliable air service to the county.
Maier also said he’d like to see economic development managed more locally rather than driven by outside forces such as oil and coal.
Cram is eager to be part of the revision of the comprehensive plan. He said he’d like to see even more community involvement in the revision so that the commissioners are doing what residents would like to see done. He noted that ridgeline development and interstate signage were two areas referenced in the plan that the commissioners have not yet tackled. Otherwise, several goals have been attained, and he’d like to create more goals to further development in Sheridan County.
While Cram said the county can improve on doing more with less, he noted that lowering taxes by lowering mill levies would be difficult. He said of the 70 mills assessed, only 12 go to the county. Cutting even one mill would eliminate $600,000 of county funding while saving taxpayers only $10-20 per year.
Cram wants to continue to work on environmental issues, as well.
Rolston said he would like to see more affordable housing and a sustainable workforce in Sheridan County.
“I talk to people and they say Sheridan is a great place to live, it’s a great place to do business, however, we can’t afford to live there,” Rolston said. “And then a sustainable workforce — it’s amazing to me how you look at businesses right now in the county that are trying to hire people. I talked to one business owner who’s had to cut the hours his business is open because he just can’t find a sustainable workforce.”
Rolston said he’d also like to maintain open spaces in the county because those are important to residents.
“Those have been the challenges to keep all of that on an even keel. None of us has a crystal ball to look and see what the challenges are going to be or what might come down the road, but I’d say those have been the toughest, just trying to maintain a healthy economy and a viable workforce,” Rolston said.
Who is running?
• Raised and educated in Virginia, has lived in Sheridan County 11 years.
• Served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years.
• Former small business owner
• Public and private jobs from construction to communications, food service and farming
• Bachelor’s degree in political science, master’s degree in international relations
• Participated in repealing the food tax.
• Website: votefox.com
• Seeking his fourth term on county commission, having served 10 years to date.
• Served in the military from 1965-1970.
• Graduate of the University of Wyoming, 1974
• Employed by Wyoming Game and Fish from 1974-2004.
• Has lived in Sheridan County since 1978.
• Belongs to the Big Horn Lions Club, the Wyoming Game Wardens Association and American Legion.
• Seeking his third term on county commission after serving eight years.
• Bachelor’s degree in sociology, master’s in college counseling and doctorate of education in community college administration
• Former president of Northern Wyoming Community College District, 1988-2004
• Nationwide consultant and lecturer on education and leadership
• Current member of Big Horn Volunteer Fire Department, Sheridan Rotary Club and Dog and Cat Shelter
• Former board member of Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce
• Seeking his third term on county commission after serving eight years.
• Raised in Sheridan County and graduate of Sheridan High School
• Bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Wyoming
• Marketing director for Wyoming Stock Growers Association
• President of Wyoming County Commissioners Association
• Professional experience with Wyoming Beef Council (manager), National Cattlemen’s Association (director) and American Salers Association (executive vice president)