SHERIDAN — The two candidates running to be Ranchester’s mayor have outlined similar priorities for the town over the next four years, but differ on the specific projects it should pursue.
Incumbent Mayor Peter Clark identified upgrading and streamlining town infrastructure, enhancing amenities that contribute to quality of life in the community — like parks and recreation trails — and economic development.
When it comes to infrastructure, Clark said the town was not lacking any specific infrastructure but it will need to continue upgrading and modernizing its infrastructure, especially as the town continues to grow.
“We meet all of our infrastructure needs right now,” Clark said. “It’s a matter of, if there’s anything that comes down the pike from (the Department of Environmental Quality) or (the Environmental Protection Agency) for water treatment or something like that, we need to be in the position to upgrade our instrumentation.”
Quality of life amenities, Clark said, would center mostly on parks as the town is home to several parks. As with the town’s infrastructure, Clark said there were not any glaring needs, the town just needs to stay on top of maintenance of its parks. He also said the town was in the early stages of planning for a safe bicycle path between Ranchester and Dayton.
Clark said developing Ranchester’s economy will require the town to attract more businesses. Right now, the town is using its Main Street Mercantile, a project funded by the Wyoming Business Council that offers space to businesses trying to get a foothold in the community, and its Information Center to entice new business.
Allan Moore, who is challenging Clark in the mayor’s race, also mentioned maintenance of the town’s infrastructure as one of his priorities, and pointed specifically to streets in the town that needed to be paved. He also said there were some areas of the town that needed to be cleaned up and he would make addressing those areas a priority.
“I’ve had a lot of people, when they heard I was going to run, wanting me to see what we can do about straightening (the town) up and getting it so it looks a little more presentable,” Moore said.
Related to the town’s infrastructure, Moore said he wants to see a natural gas line extended to Ranchester, a project that is currently being managed by the Tongue River Valley Joint Powers Board. He added, though, that he would like to contract someone more knowledge about the project to represent the town and negotiate its completion.
Moore also said he would make sure the park projects Clark identified are completed.
Ranchester is also growing quickly, Clark estimated at about 2 percent a year, and Clark said the town is currently equipped to manage that rate of growth, but that it could be overwhelming if it accelerates. Moore said he would manage Ranchester’s growth, and its effect on the town’s infrastructure, through the decisions he and the town council make on various projects. He noted, however, that he would consider projects on a case-by-case basis.
“We’ve got to make decisions based on what we can afford to do and what we’ve got to work with,” Moore said.
One of the challenges Ranchester will face on the state level is the potential loss of direct distribution funding, money that state Legislature has consistently dispersed to municipalities throughout Wyoming but is considering cutting due to the state’s financial struggles. Both Clark and Moore said they did not think Ranchester would be able to make up for the loss of that funding. The Legislature has explored letting municipalities create their own revenue options, primarily by creating local taxes, to replace the loss of direct distribution funding, but Clark and Moore said Ranchester’s tax base is not big enough to create the necessary revenue.
“We have very little options,” Clark said. “…We don’t have the tax base or manpower to collect the fees a city like Sheridan can.”
Clark said direct distribution makes up nearly 20 percent of Ranchester’s general fund and the loss of that money would be a major hit to the town. Considering that, Clark and Moore said the town’s mayor will have to lobby the Legislature to maintain direct distribution funding, at least for small towns like Ranchester. Clark said he has already attended several legislative meetings to explain the town’s reliance on direct distribution funds.
Elections will be held on Nov. 6 and early voting is currently open.