The Clark residents’ primary concern is that the Powell district has declined to pay utilities, insurance or maintenance for the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center. That’s because the center is used for many things unrelated to recreation — like meetings, weddings, dinners and worship services.
“We have a full facility rec center here (in Clark) and get very little of the tax money that we pay in for rec back to use for own facility,” said Larry Dodge, who lobbied for the legislation to allow a split. Dodge is a Clark resident, president of the board for the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center and one of the nine Powell Recreation District board members.
“We have a full gym, kitchen, meeting room, a rodeo arena, soccer field, ball diamond, I mean we have a full facility here and we run it mainly on donations and money we can raise,” Dodge said.
This budget year, less than a quarter of the property taxes the Clark area contributes to the Powell Recreation District are earmarked for the Clark community and the Pioneer Recreation Center.
“We’ve been able to survive ... but it’s not right,” said Don Tolman of Clark. Tolman is vice president Clark recreation center's board.
Powell Recreation District Board Chairman Danny Shorb said the district is always willing to consider Clark projects related to recreation.
“If they ever come and say, ‘We want to do this. It’s going to be on this day,’ we’ll gladly pay for it,” Shorb said.
However, he said the district can’t spend money on things unrelated to recreation, like general Pioneer Recreation Center bills.
“The money that we are allocated needs to be used for recreational purposes,” Shorb said. “That’s pretty much all we ask for.”
Shorb said some of the money allocated for Clark recreation typically goes unspent each year because of a lack of requests for the funds.
“We understand their frustrations, but we just say, ‘Come to us and talk to us,’” Shorb said.
Clark’s case considered in Cheyenne
State Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, was one of the people the concerned Clark residents talked with, and he agreed to take their cause to Cheyenne.
“If the people of Clark want to do it, more power to them,” said Peterson, who introduced Senate File 25 this legislative session.
Peterson said he wasn’t for or against the split from Powell and only wanted to provide a mechanism for Clark residents to do so if they choose.
The bill would have allowed any area in Wyoming to break off their own recreation district after collecting signatures and then a majority vote from that area’s residents.
Personally, Peterson expressed qualms that Clark might one day find itself with a lower valuation and less money than before by splitting up, but “if they feel like they can do better on their own, why not?
“Let them have at it,” he said.
The Senate’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivision committee, however, had bigger qualms. Senate File 25 died on Thursday when no one on the five-member committee supported it.
One concern was how district assets or debts would be divided while the biggest concern was that a small district could later become inactive, causing problems for the county government in assessing taxes, Peterson said.
Dodge and Tolman each offered that having a district shut down and a tax end didn’t seem like too bad of a worst-case scenario. However, both said the fears of a district die-off were unfounded.
Dodge noted the work the Clark community had put into its recreation center over the years.
“There’s no way we’re going let the rec center die, because we have our own money and our own sweat invested in it,” he said. Further, even if a bust in natural gas prices led to fewer tax dollars available, “most anything would be more than we’ve gotten in the past,” he said.
Dollars for Clark
The Clark area provided about $36,000 in property taxes to the Powell Recreation District this fiscal year, with about two-thirds coming from the minerals industry, said District Director Colby Stenerson.
The Powell district has committed about $5,000 for a part-time staffer for the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center this fiscal year and another $3,270 is set aside for recreation equipment and supplies in Clark, Stenerson said. That’s a total of roughly $8,270.
Shorb and Stenerson could not recall any Clark recreation projects rejected by the Powell recreation board. In fact, Stenerson noted a 2009 decision to put $4,000 — $2,000 more than had been requested — toward new playground equipment at the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center.
He also noted the programs in Powell — which range from swimming lessons to baseball to judo — are intended for Clark residents as well.
“We have quite a few people from Clark that come (here) that we provide services to,” Stenerson said. “We have a lot of kids that participate in our activities and our youth sports and those things, too — and we want to make that stuff available to those kids that they wouldn’t be able to get in Clark.”
In contrast, Tolman wrote in a letter to the editor of the Tribune that “almost no one in this area participates” in Powell programs while Clark tax dollars help pay for them.
Tolman and Dodge each noted the significant distance to Powell — about 25 miles — and Tolman said the Powell Recreation District Board should sometimes meet in Clark.
Dodge said he believes the idea of splitting off enjoys widespread support in the Clark and Tolman suggested Powell residents would support the idea, too.
Though the bill died this session, “We’ll keep introducing it, year after year,” Tolman said.
For his part, Sen. Peterson hopes the Powell Recreation District board and the people of Clark can iron things out — something he said he suggested when first approached about the issue a couple years ago.
“If things don’t improve, I would be willing to bring it back to try and offer some resolution,” Peterson said. “I still think that they can work it out.”
Shorb said the Powell Recreation District board plans to discuss the issue at its regular Feb. 5 meeting.
The Powell district’s overall budget is $464,324 for fiscal year 2012-13. That includes revenue from fees and grants, the $36,000 in property taxes from the Clark area and another roughly $217,000 in property taxes from Powell and its outlying areas, Stenerson said.
Editor's note: This version has been corrected to reflected that Tolman is the vice president and Dodge the president of the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center board.