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Affordable housing
Five-person committee provides recommendations on priority actions to address longstanding problem
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SHERIDAN — During a Sheridan County Commission study session Tuesday, a group of local realtors and developers shared thoughts on the recent countywide housing study.

The group — comprising Bob Utter, Jane Clark, Paul DelRossi, Bruce Garber and Ron Patterson — was convened by Sheridan City Councilor and Sheridan County Deputy County Attorney Clint Beaver to review the 66-page document released by San Francisco-based land use firm Gruen Gruen and Associates in January.

The committee members were asked to use their combined knowledge of the Sheridan County housing market to prioritize, and determine the feasibility of, Gruen’s 14 suggestions.

The Gruen study showed there will be an increased housing need in Sheridan County in the near future. Over the next 10 years, it is projected the county will need 990 additional units including 725 single-family units and 265 multi-family units. This projection takes into account workforce and senior citizen housing needs.

Three of the Gruen recommendations were considered to be “high priority” by the five-person committee. These included changing the plant investment fee from a fixed scale to a sliding scale based on the size of housing unit; facilitating the development of feasible affordable housing projects and encouraging the creation of a community land trust.

The city and county have already convened a joint committee to look into the concept of a land trust, and the committee said they encouraged this work.

“We believe there are significant programs throughout the U.S. which have utilized some form of land trusts, deed restricted housing, limited equity housing cooperatives and a permanent housing authority for the county,” the committee wrote. “We recommend that the city and county jointly collect information on each of these alternatives, focusing on the strengths and limitations of each model.”

During the commission meeting, committee members said they felt affordable housing development was no longer sustainable or attractive for developers without government intervention and involvement.

“Developers are in the business of making a profit first and serving the community second,” DelRossi said. “As long as (development) is driven by the price of land, it will not change and (developers) will take the highest-possible opportunities. Why would anybody, as a developer, go for less profit if they could make more profit?”

Utter said a land trust or housing authority would take the cost of purchasing land away from developers, therefore making affordable housing development attractive.

“One of the things I really like about the land trust is if it is properly administered, it’s sustainable,” Utter said. “…Theoretically and ideally, the land doesn’t come into play.”

Four of the Gruen recommendations were found to be “moderate priority” by the committee, while the remaining seven were found to be “low priority.” These seven included a recommendation to encourage the production of market-rate housing so people currently living in low-income housing would buy market-rate housing and open up existing low-income housing.

DelRossi said there was a fatal flaw in Gruen’s theory.

“The trickle-down effect that Gruen talked about doesn’t work unless this is a closed environment… and there are no new people coming in,” DelRossi said. ”What we’re seeing is people coming in from outside (the community).”

Sheridan County Commissioner Tom Ringley agreed.

“Some things look good on paper, but that’s nuts…and hard to implement,” Ringley said. “Tell me how we do that as a community.”

Overall, the committee recommended forming a permanent standing committee with representatives from the city, county and local business to address the high priority items in the housing study. The primary focus will be investigating a land trust and other government-funded housing options.

Intercommunity cooperation will be key to ensuring steps are taken to solve the local housing problem, rather than just study it, the committee said.

“This committee believes that a strong commitment of cooperation among these three entities is crucial… in addressing the housing challenges faced by the Sheridan community,” the committee wrote.

Behavioral health
Sheridan Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees seeks to ease hospital’s behavioral health burden with crisis stabilization facility, transport vehicle approvals
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SHERIDAN — During a meeting Wednesday, Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s Board of Trustees took action to increase the hospital’s care and service capacity for behavioral health patients by supporting efforts to secure American Rescue Plan Act dollars for behavioral health facilities and allocating funding for a vehicle to transport involuntarily detained patients. 

“[There] is a big need within our region around providing the right kind of care and treatment for behavioral health patients,” SMH CEO Mike McCafferty said. 

Like providers across the state, Sheridan Memorial Hospital is vying for a slice of the $85 million in ARPA funding earmarked for health care upgrades in Wyoming, McCafferty explained. In addition to requesting for heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades and renovations to create an inventory and supply space, McCafferty said the hospital plans to request ARPA funds for the creation of a crisis stabilization and Emergency Psychiatric Assessment, Treatment and Healing — or EmPATH — facility within existing hospital facilities. 

The new facility, which McCafferty estimated would cost about $15 million, would serve as a “front door,” McCafferty said, to serve urgent psychiatric and behavioral health patients, providing areas for assessment, crisis stabilization and eight to 10 inpatient behavioral health beds. 

There is an urgent need for additional behavioral health care services in Wyoming, McCafferty said; the state has far fewer than the recommended 50 beds per 100,000 residents, and the closest inpatient behavioral health care facility is located in Gillette. Meanwhile, about 150 people per year are admitted to Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s emergency room on Title 25 holds — or involuntary commitment, during which patients pose a danger to themselves or others — each year. A new behavioral health facility — even one that, as McCafferty explained, will take two to three years to receive funding and build — would ease the burden on SMH emergency room staff while providing appropriate and safe care for people in mental health crises. 

The board resolved to support the hospital’s efforts in seeking ARPA funding for the project.

“The Board of Trustees hereby encourages and supports all efforts to develop and operate an EmPath and crisis stabilization unit serving Northeastern Wyoming and, to the extent capacity permits, citizens throughout the state,” the resolution stated. 

“I just think it’s so important. That program would be great for our community,” SMH Board Vice Chair David Smith said of the potential new unit. 

Sheridan County commissioners approved a similar resolution earlier this week in support of SMH’s creation of a behavioral health unit. 

SMH officials are currently waiting for the State Loan and Investment Board to begin accepting applications for ARPA funding, which McCafferty anticipated will happen in the next few weeks. From there, state officials will determine whether SMH’s projects are selected to receive the federal funding.

In another effort to ease challenges related to behavioral health patients, the SMH Board of Trustees also approved a $55,000 purchase of a 2019 Chevrolet Tahoe to transport medically stabilized, involuntarily committed patients to other facilities across the state. In addition to a medically trained driver, the vehicle will eventually be outfitted with barriers between the driver and middle row of seats as well as between the middle and back rows of seats to ensure driver and passenger safety during transports, SMH Director of Critical Care Lynn Grady explained.

Recent scheduling challenges between the hospital and Sheridan County’s ambulance provider, Rocky Mountain Ambulance, necessitated the acquisition, Lynn Grady said. Throughout the last six months, Grady said staffing constraints at the EMS contractor have decreased ambulance availability such that the hospital can no longer rely on RMA ambulances to transport involuntarily committed patients in a timely fashion. 

Timely transportation is essential for patients requiring inpatient behavioral health care in Wyoming, SMH Chief Financial Officer Nathan Stutte said. If SMH providers cannot transport patients to inpatient behavioral health care facilities quickly enough, the patient’s bed may go to the next person awaiting treatment at the facility. 

“We’re looking at trying to get someone in that [inpatient behavioral health] bed and so are 20 other facilities in the state,” Stutte said. “This is a very important piece, I think, to be able to get patients where they need to be.” 

Operating the hospital’s own means of transportation will ensure SMH is able to transport people independently and without having to rely on another agency’s availability, McCafferty said.

Candidates discuss mandates, government overreach
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SHERIDAN — In addition to qualifications and backgrounds, candidates for a variety of local races shared thoughts on various issues facing Sheridan County Wednesday as part of a forum hosted by the Sheridan County Republican Party and the Republican Women of Sheridan County.

Many of the questions centered around fiscal responsibility, upholding the state and U.S. Constitution and limited government.

Candidates for Sheridan County sheriff, for example, were asked whether they would enforce any attempt to confiscate the guns of Wyoming citizens. The candidates also weighed in on if they would support the carrying of concealed handguns by licensed citizens into locations where weapons are currently banned — such as schools, government buildings and other areas.

All four of the candidates present responded that any unconstitutional attempt to collect residents’ guns would be met with disagreement and resistance from local law enforcement. 

Sheridan County Undersheriff Levi Dominguez noted the importance of working with law enforcement throughout the state to oppose any such attempted action by the federal government.

Zach McLain, also seeking the seat, said if such an attempt were made, “we will meet the feds with the ultimate resistance in Sheridan County.”

Questions surrounding freedom and limited government permeated the forum Wednesday.

Candidates for Sheridan County Commission also answered questions surrounding unconstitutional mandates, with answers centering primarily around the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheriff Allen Thompson, who announced his retirement from the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office last fall and his intent to run for Sheridan County Commission, said the challenges of the last few years centered around people being scared and too many unknowns. He also noted the Wyoming Legislature has changed some laws regarding mandates, putting more control in the hands of local government.

Bryan Helferich, also seeking a seat on the commission, noted he didn’t obey any of the mandates and said government is in a lot of places it doesn’t belong.

Holly Jennings, another candidate for the commission, said she keeps a copy of the U.S. Constitution in her purse along with her Glock 9 mm, and noted she’s been discouraged to see the state government “twist the constitution to get where they wanted to be with mandates.”

Other questions throughout the evening went to candidates for clerk of district court, coroner, treasurer, Dayton mayor and town council and Sheridan City Council. 

Questions centered on topics such as growth of Sheridan County, affordable housing, candidate priorities and — despite races like Sheridan City Council being nonpartisan — whether candidates have read the Republican Party’s platform and agree with substantial portions of it. 

Many candidates spoke to affordable housing, growth and local culture by touting beliefs in limited government and a free market while outlining ways the local government could provide incentives to developers and direct where growth occurs as a way to protect productive agricultural land and local heritage.

Wednesday’s forum was the first of three events set for this week. 

An all candidates meet and greet will take place June 23 at 6 p.m. at the Powder Horn Clubhouse. On Friday, state and federal candidates will participate in a Republican-hosted forum beginning at 6 p.m. at the Best Western Sheridan Center. 

Additional forums organized through the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce are scheduled for June 27 and June 28 at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center starting at 6 p.m. each night.

Ten appointed to county boards
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SHERIDAN — The Sheridan County Commission appointed 10 Sheridan County residents to various boards earlier in the week.

Among those appointed were: Kevin Kessner to the Sheridan Memorial Hospital Board; Ken Heuermann, Kathy Fay and incumbent Kristin Campbell to the Sheridan County Historic Preservation Commission;  Anna Edwards and Michelle Edwards to the Sheridan County Library System Board; Allen Wellborn and incumbent Jeff Wallack to the Sheridan County Planning and Zoning Commission; and Jonni Joyce and incumbent Terry Weitzel to the Sheridan County Parks and Recreation Board.

All appointed board members will serve three-year terms.

Commissioner Terry Cram said he was thankful for all of the applicants for the board openings and their dedication to Sheridan County.

“We did interview each and every one of these people that applied for all these boards, and I believe we had some really great candidates,” Cram said. “I appreciate them stepping forward and volunteering to be on these boards.”

Commission Chair Lonnie Wright agreed.

“These people are top quality, professional, very enthusiastic and full of energy, and that’s what we like,” Wright said. “Thanks to everyone for jumping in and helping us.”