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Fairgrounds improvements, budget pressures seen as county’s top issues in 2012

Dwindling federal budgets and a stagnant outlook for state revenue have Park County commissioners wary as they head into 2012.

Commissioner Bucky Hall said extra severance tax distributions from the state, which the county has counted on for infrastructure in prior years, “might start disappearing,” and Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said the county may have to assume it will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding.

Noting the recent mandate from regional Forest Service personnel to Shoshone Forest managers to speed up their planning process and save money, “I think you’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Grosskopf said.

He said federal agencies facing budget crunches may look to partner with counties on projects — that’s a prospect the county’s consultant on federal land planning, Ecosystem Research Group, has said is possible, and a potential opening for greater county influence on federal land use.

Commissioner Tim French, who will serve as the Park County Commission chairman in 2012, noted the county remains in the middle of three broad federal land planning processes all going at once — the Shoshone National Forest plan revision, a new land use plan for the Big Horn Basin’s federal lands and Yellowstone winter use. Having a trio of projects is “kind of unusual, kind of tough to deal with,” French said.

Other big Park County projects cited by French for the coming year include: continuing improvements to the fairgrounds’ electrical grid and planning for a new multi-purpose building there; the closure of the Powell and Clark landfills to household waste in the fall; and fixes to a couple bridges in tough shape.

This also will mark the year that the county abandons the use of magnesium chloride as a dust suppressant on county roads.

“We found that it’s not doing what we thought it would do,” said French. The county Road and Bridge Department had thought the chemical mix would only have to be applied a few times and leave the road performing as though it had been oiled. County crews have instead found “it’s something that they have to apply yearly”; the county will instead focus on chip sealing, French said.

While noting the challenges ahead, French said the county is better-positioned than most because of its economic diversity — having oil and gas development, agriculture and tourism.

Cody, he said, is “or is rapidly becoming a regional shopping center area for much of the Basin, so that pulls people, so I think we’re very fortunate here.”

In county politics for 2012, the seats of commissioners Dave Burke and Hall will be up for election.