Weed and Pest discusses proposed special districts bills at 2016 convention
Cody – The Wyoming Weed and Pest Council hosted a full slate of council meetings and educational speakers during the 2016 Wyoming Weed and Pest Conference on Nov. 1-3, including breakout sessions on bio-control research, Ventenata grass and public court cases related to Weed and Pest districts.
During the business meeting on Nov. 1, Park County Weed and Pest Supervisor Josh Shorb gave an update on the recent work of the Special Districts Task Force and its impacts on special districts, including Wyoming Weed and Pest.
When discussing the budget bill related to special districts, Shorb noted that many elements of the proposed bill are already addressed by current Weed and Pest Council actions.
“When we talk about the budget bill, a lot of those things that are in that, the Weed and Pest Act and what we’re actually doing is already addressed,” he said.
One element that will be addressed is how special districts assess and assign functions to their budget reserve. Shorb explained that historically, Wyoming Weed and Pest listed the figure in their budget report but did not include an explanation.
“What this budget bill will do, in a sense, is make every district state their budget reserve policy and what it’s for,” said Shorb. “That’s going to give an opportunity for districts to explain themselves.”
He commented than many people do not realize the importance of a large budget reserve in the event of weed or pest outbreaks.
“When a grasshopper plague sweeps across Johnson County, we can spend $4 million pretty quick, but some people don’t realize that,” continued Shorb.
“Another one of the big bills out there is the dissolution of special districts,” said Shorb. “That’s where a lot of the special districts are going to band together and fight if it gets sponsored.”
He explained that there are three ways that a county commission can begin the process to dissolve a district that are in existing law currently.
“One of them is for the good of the people, basically the ‘we feel like it’ clause,” Shorb continued.
Proposed changes include adding further language that would delineate different things a special district could do that would trigger a county commission to begin dissolving a district, including not providing their budget to the county clerk on time, not posting notices on time or providing them in a publically accessible place.
“This would give commissioners potentially more authority and a little bit longer of a laundry list on how to dissolve a district,” explained Shorb.
He noted that while county commissions cannot simply say that a district is dissolved, they do have a significant influence on public vote.
“It has to go to the voters, but for a county commission to even bring that up and have it in the local newspapers, that’s not good,” stressed Shorb.
County commissions currently a significant amount of authority over Weed and Pest districts, said Shorb.
“That’s already been in the state statute, and it’s been that way for a long time. I think a lot of county commissions out there did not realize they had this authority over us,” he continued.
However, throughout the function of the special task force, the executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association has been actively involved in discussions.
“County commissions are all very aware right now of the actual authority they have over Weed and Pest districts,” stressed Shorb.
One result that Shorb predicted is that county commissions will question special districts on their budget reserves and future budget plans.
“I can see some things come to pass like this district has ‘X’ amount of dollars in there, and they can say, ‘No, you don’t get your full mill. You’re going to get 90 percent. Use your budget reserve to fill that last 10 percent,’” explained Shorb. “They want to tell us we can squeak as much as we want but we can’t do anything.”
He noted that the control that county commissions have over special districts is slightly concerning, but the task force and the Council will continue to follow the issue.
Shorb stressed that Wyoming Weed and Pest districts will need to create a unified front when faced with upcoming bills and building positive relationships with county commissions.
“We’re going to have to have a lot of help from everybody this year, and we’re going to have to have a united front,” said Shorb.
To help with this goal, he strong suggested investing in hiring a professional lobbyist.
“That’s one of the reasons I think we need to bring in a professional,” continued Shorb.
In the 2016 budget, the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council recommended $6,000 for professional services, said Shorb.
“I don’t know that the accountant is going to pass that to approve that money, but my recommendation is that they do. The guy that we’re working with is Pete Illoway,” he said. “We already had him attend one of the task force meetings on our behalf.”
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.