Sublette County: Yes to heli, rent due on clinics
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
March 16, 2011
The Sublette County Commission met for a full day of work Tuesday, with Commissioners Joel Bousman and Andy Nelson in session in the courthouse in Pinedale, and Commissioner John Linn joining in from his home outside of Marbleton via Skype connection while he heals from injuries received in a snowmobile accident.
Rural Health Care District board members met with commissioners to discuss the two medical clinics and their status. The commission had funded the building of the clinics, which totaled about $18 million, with a verbal agreement with the RHCD that the money would be repaid. The RHCD has since struggled to balance its budget, let alone repay construction costs. At Tuesday’s meeting, that agreement, which has been the cause of bad vibes between the two boards, was put into the past.
Although Commissioner John Linn suggested that the commission lease the clinics to the RHCD for $1 per year, Commissioner Nelson suggested charging a more realistic figure would be appropriate. Nelson, himself a member of the health care community, said it would be great to lease a medical facility for $1 per year. He suggested that in the realm of private enterprise, it would cost at least $10,000 a month to rent a health care facility such as the clinics. He suggested the commission charge $100,000 per year to the RHCD. RHCD board member Scott Scherbel responded, "In my mind, something like that is reasonable."
RHCD board chairman Dave Racich was less than enthusiastic, pointing out, "We’re down to bare bones right now. "He suggested if the RHCD budget remains flat, with the addition of adding a large lease payment, "it is going to put a crunch on us," suggesting that ambulance services could be harmed, hours could be reduced at clinics, and the possibility of eliminating a position.
Linn expressed concern about hampering the operations of the RHCD, but Nelson and Bousman both noted that if RHCD paid the county $100,000 per year in rent, that amount would be placed into a reserve account, with the intention of building the account to the point it could be used for renovations or building replacement in the future.
Linn made a motion to rent the clinics to the RHCD for $1 per year, but the motion died for lack of a second. Nelson made a motion to rent the clinics to RHCD for $100,000 per year, and to invest the money into a capital reserve account. Linn seconded the motion for discussion. In the end, Bousman and Nelson voted for the motion, with Linn opposed.
Search and rescue operations in the high country of Sublette County this summer will be assisted by a search and rescue helicopter soon to be sitting at the ready.
Sublette County Commissioners voted Tuesday to begin developing contractual agreements that will result in having a helicopter on standby in the county during the busy summer season for hikers and other outdoor recreationists.
Sublette County Sheriff Dave Lankford said under state law, he is responsible for coordinating search and rescue efforts, and with about 30,000 visitors to the Bridger Wilderness of the Wind River Mountains each year, such efforts can be daunting.
Advances in technology have meant a reduction in notification time for those needing rescued, Lankford said, and he’d like to match that with a reduction in response times in order to save lives.
It will cost the county $2,400 per day to have the ship and pilot on standby for a 90-day summer season, according to Sublette County Tip Top Search and Rescue program administrator Jason Ray, and could serve as a resource for neighboring counties.
Sublette County Commissioner Andy Nelson of Pinedale said the commissioners should talk to their counterparts in all neighboring counties to see their interest in coordinating efforts, and sharing in the cost of having the ship on standby.
"This $2,400 is hard for me to get over," Nelson said.
But search and rescue team member Tony Chambers said budgets are tight, and doubted the other counties would be willing to contribute to that cost. He suggested that the county could charge a few hundred dollars more for use of the ship on days it is called into use in neighboring counties.
Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman said the cost was "probably justified" in light of the sheriff’s responsibilities under state statute, but agreed the counties should look at developing a regional partnership to have the ship available locally.
Western Wyoming’s mountains pose daunting challenges for search and rescue teams, with much of the work involving rescue and recovery. Sublette County’s commissioners plan to discuss the issue at a statewide county commission association meeting in Saratoga next month.