RANCHESTER — Just one trip through Ranchester on U.S. Highway 14 and you’re bound to notice the construction: A mercantile across the street from the Information Center, a new school on the west end of town and more than one subdivision.
Most of these sites right now are just fencing or disturbed earth, some still years from completion. Even still, add it all together and you don’t have to be an economist to realize the town looks poised for growth.
An increased population means a greater demand on infrastructure, but Ranchester representatives say the town is equipped to handle such growth with a few tweaks along the way.
When Mayor Peter Clark moved to Ranchester in 1994, he said roughly 700 individuals called the town home. The 2000 U.S. Census, which registered 701 residents, backs up his recollection.
By 2010, the Census counted 855 people, a 22-percent increase. And, a 2013 estimate puts the town at 920 residents, an additional 7.6-percent gain.
“In the last 10 or so years it’s been steady,” Clark said.
New single-family homes promise to add to that figure. How much, however, comes down to anybody’s best estimate.
Town Engineer Chris Johnson projects 30 percent growth in the next five to 10 years. He bases his “wild guess” on private developer plans. Of course, as he quickly points out, this estimate could change at any moment. After all, the ‘80s were the last projected “boom,” and then Ranchester didn’t have a subdivision request for 20 years.
Much of the town’s current growth appears more stable than the typical Wyoming boom-bust cycle. The school is already approved and ready to go, and two subdivisions — including roads and utilities for homes — are moving forward.
If Ranchester does grow 30 percent in the next five to 10 years, Johnson says the town’s water supply is in good shape. Back in the mid-2000s, the town funded a 500,000-gallon water tank to add to its existing 500,000-gallon tank, good for 1 million gallons of water storage.
To put that in perspective, Johnson said the town uses about 100,000 gallons per day in the winter. And, on the “hottest, driest summer day,” use can exceed 300,000 gallons.
These figures could improve moving forward since Johnson said many of the water mains have been replaced the last few years.
“We’ve gotten rid of some of the old boy network infrastructure out there that was leaking and unmetered,” Clark added.
The water treatment plant, too, is sufficient for large-scale growth. And the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, when compiling a report to determine whether the new school was feasible, found the town’s fire flows more than adequate.
The DEQ also found, however, the town’s wastewater treatment facilities were “starting to push capacity.”
“So the town decided to pursue adding a new pond,” Johnson said. “I have since been working on the design for roughly doubling the size of our town’s sewage capabilities.”
The drawings are still at the preliminary level, and Johnson is working closely with the DEQ. Clark said the town has money saved through the consensus fund, general fund and Capital Facilities taxes.
In the meantime, the town has upgraded lines to improve flows into the sewer lagoons.
Clark said streets and garbage, like the town’s water, could handle any upcoming growth. Nearly the entire town is paved, except for a section in Mobile Circle.
On the highway, the Wyoming Department of Transportation is adding a turning lane and changing speed limits, which will eventually read 30 mph to the edge of town to accommodate the new school.
The town hauls its garbage to the Sheridan landfill.
Ranchester spends more than $3,000 a month on tipping fees, but Clark said the town maintains reasonable rates: about $28 per month for residential properties (one receptacle, collection once a week).
“We do some recycling out here,” he added. “We have our own recycling trailers we can take in for free. We also haul green waste.”
Overall, Clark and Johnson both emphasized the town has been proactive in updating its infrastructure over the past couple decades.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape [for growth],” Clark said, adding the town needs to continue to keep on top of any needs that pop up.
The only area identified as a problem, he restated, is the sewer lagoon, but planning ahead and establishing funding means the town can compensate for that moving forward.
In other words, if the town does grow to 1,000, 1,500 or more residents over the next decade, Ranchester representatives feel confident the town’s infrastructure could support the increased tax base.