Posted: Wednesday, Oct 10th, 2012
I thought I would take the opportunity of what will probably be my last Commissioner Comments to lay out some of my opinions about things that remain unfinished in the county as I leave office. I don't mean to imply that these things have the highest priorities, some everyday stuff is more important. These are just some things that might not be constantly on our mind as the county moves into the future, but they would make life easier in the county.
The first is the expansion of our county GIS system. A GIS (Geographic Information System) has been implemented in the assessor's office, but greater implementation is possible and desirable. Ten years ago it was not so important, but with each passing year it becomes more so. GIS systems are capable of integrating many of our normal county records with one another. Besides being valuable to the assessor, it is also valuable to law enforcement, emergency management, planning, grant writing, and the commissioners, not to mention the value the public could gain by easier access to public information kept in the courthouse. Some of our neighboring counties have fully integrated GIS systems and they have proven to be valuable. We can't get left behind technologically.
Another important thing to consider is a new courtroom facility. Our current facility is inadequate in several ways. First, is a lack of capacity. It is impractical to schedule trials and hearings so that courtrooms are used at all times, but with five judges (including one magistrate) using two rooms, scheduling issues come up. A second consideration is security. Our current facilities are poorly secured. Security, including prisoner transport to court, depends heavily on personnel--many personnel. With a properly designed facility, security and transport could be handled with fewer personnel more securely, without resorting to such unpleasant things as metal detectors at the entrances. There is also the problem that defendants often have to occupy the same hallway as witnesses and victims. That is a really bad situation that needs to be corrected.
It is also vital that the county employ a road improvement program. We do a very good job at road maintenance, given our budget constraints. But it would be better to consider a road improvement program. The only thing lacking is money. However, there may be some things in the works that would provide more money for our road and bridge department than the county has now. Road improvement certainly doesn't mean that every road in the county needs paved. There are many other things that could be done like straightening out dangerous curves, dealing with places the snow drifts in all the time, hauling in more gravel or widening some roads. Some of this has been done, but money is always a limitation. The commissioners now have a detailed baseline road condition report of every road in the county. Such information can form a basis in the event of energy development or as a framework for deciding what roads need the most attention. It is way too easy to defer maintenance in order to get through a tight spot with the budget. That eventually catches up, and the county needs to deliberately move in the other direction.
Another item that needs addressed is our county comprehensive land use plan. There are some significant defects in it. One of the major reasons to have a comprehensive land use plan it that it is absolutely necessary in order to give our county a seat at the table in case the federal government wants to make changes in the regulations for the use of federal lands in the county. Federal land use policies are a source of enormous conflict in western Wyoming where federal land is much more abundant. Our fellow county commissioners there are well practiced in dealing with federal intrusion on a massive scale. One of the best tools they have in their arsenal is a well written comprehensive land use plan. We can learn much from them. The land use plan, properly written can also help us address the issue of Camp Guernsey expansion. Again, a properly written plan would give the county more power in a conflict than it might otherwise have.
While we're at it, and we're talking about changing the comprehensive land use plan the county might as well remove some of the Smart Growth elements from it. It can easily be demonstrated that the plan is a Smart Growth document. (For details, you might want to ask one of the commissioners, or maybe do your own research.) Ironically, the 284 people who signed the petition last year opposing the High Plains Initiative were actually defending this Smart Growth document. I know. That's a cruel thing to say, but it is most definitely true. They wanted to "keep what we have" and this was it. Now I think it is also interesting that the county has had this document in force for four years in the county, since before I was elected, and not one single dire prediction made by the opponents of HPI about the results of Smart Growth has come true in our county because of it. In fact, planning and zoning has moved in the opposite direction. The county regulations are much less burdensome than they were four years ago. Nevertheless, this might be a good opportunity to make people feel better by changing some of the wording, if only the citizens of Platte County will do one very important thing, actually read it before they defend or attack it. Or in the alternative, be very careful whom they trust.
I have enjoyed my time as commissioner very much. It has been a learning experience for sure. I have seen the best and the worst of Platte County citizens. I have seen some act in total disregard for their family and neighbors, and others sacrificially give for the benefit of others. I have seen drunken outrage in some, and quiet acceptance in others. I have seen the commissioners be the topic of outlandish lies, and at other times be genuinely complimented for doing a good job. I have seen attempts to rob our citizens of their constitutional rights and determinations to follow the law carefully. And all of that was just during commissioner meetings. I'm sure it was even more interesting out in public conversation.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the gentlemen who have served with me as commissioners, Dan Kirkbride, Tim Millikin, and Steve Shockley. They each have had their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Each has always added to the quality of the decisions made. But they all have had one thing in common. Not one single time have I ever thought that any one of them was making a decision contrary to what he thought was best for the Platte County and its citizens.