The Wyoming Legislature created a new task force this year to study the potential for building a state office building in Riverton.
Three local lawmakers – Wyoming Reps. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, and Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, and Wyoming Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton – are among those appointed to the task force, which received a $50,000 allocation as part of the state’s capital construction bill this year to cover salaries, mileage and per diems for the group.
Initially, the bill also included a $34 million allocation to pay for the office building itself, but several members of the Wyoming Senate questioned that amount, at one point removing the entire line item from the legislation before eventually restoring $12.5 million for the project.
Later, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon used a line-item veto to reduce the amount even further, to $2.5 million.
This week, Oakley told the Riverton City Council that the decrease in funding represents a “different approach” to the planning process: The task force – which she co-chairs – will “gather the information (and) determine what we need” before the state allocates a specific dollar amount to the project.
“It’s still funded a couple million dollars, and that’s because I think there is very, very serious interest in it,” she said. “So things are moving on that, and that’s great. … It just could be fantastic.”
Salazar had defended the initial $34 million allocation on the Senate Floor, but he told the council he was “happy to see” the $2.5 million “placeholder” in the capital construction budget for a state office building in Riverton.
“You can imagine the economic impact (for) Riverton to have state employees in a state office building, and what that would do to Main Street and Federal,” he said. “So that is something that I think all of us here are going to be pushing and exploring to see if that is viable.”
Oakley said the task force will have its first meeting in June in Riverton.
Winter rec center
The initial capital construction proposal also contained a $3.5 million allocation to the Wyoming Business Council that could help fund a winter recreation center in Riverton, but the Senate removed that line item as well.
Wyoming Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, supported the removal during debate in the Senate, noting that other communities in his district have built recreational facilities without state aid.
“They raised the money for themselves, they built it themselves – it’s for the people and it’s by the people of that community,” he said. “I’m not sure why the state should be involved in funding these particular projects.”
Wyoming Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said a recreation center would help “attract” state employees to Riverton if a new office building is constructed there.
During this week’s council meeting, Salazar said he would be “personally pushing” for the rec center funding at the state level next year.
He noted that, “for all practical purposes,” the new winter facility “would replace the current hockey rink” in Riverton.
“As the months go by, I will … keep you all informed with the specifics on that,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not a done deal, but I think we have a hope that it could occur.”
The capital construction bill that was signed into law this year also includes a $10 million appropriation from the Wyoming State Penitentiary Capital Construction Account to the State Construction Department for three projects, two of which are located in Fremont County: the demolition of the Wyoming Honor Farm administrative building, and the relocation of utilities and information-technology assets from that building to “another suitable location at the Honor Farm.”
A $500,000 allocation will cover the rehabilitation and renovation of the Emerson Building on the Wyoming Life Resource Center campus, and a $452,000 allocation will cover a demolition project in Fort Washakie.