SLIB votes to fund Lovell Main Street Project

It’s full speed ahead for the Main Street Phase of the Lovell Water and Sewer Infrastructure Project thanks to a decision by the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board Thursday to fully fund the final stage of Lovell’s long-running project.

Meeting Thursday morning in Cheyenne, the SLIB – made up of Wyoming’s top five elected officials — voted unanimously to approve a $3.6 million grant for the Main Street Phase, which is scheduled to be done in 2014.

The grant is in addition to a more than $700,000 grant approved in November by the Wyoming Water Development Commission for the water transmission line portion of the Main Street Project. Thursday’s SLIB mineral royalty grant will pay for a new main sewer line, sewer and water service lines and a portion of resurfacing costs for the project that is linked to a Wyoming Dept. of Transportation street resurfacing project.

Lovell Town Councilman Brian Dickson attended Thursday’s meeting and said the Lovell project was on the “approval list” of Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments Director Ryan Lance, but he had also visited with four of the five SLIB members: Secretary of State Max Maxfield, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Supt. of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

The legwork must have paid off, because SLIB voted to approve Lovell’s full request.

“They gave out just over $7 million, and we got half of it,” Dickson said. “The Lovell project was on the approval list along with 18 other projects the director recommended funding for.”

A SLIB scare

After the SLIB considered Wyoming Business Council projects and other board items, the mineral royalty grants were next on the agenda late Thursday morning. Gov. Matt Mead entertained a motion to develop a consent list for the mineral royalty grants but requested that Lovell’s project not be included on the consent list.

Dickson was shocked.

“I thought to myself, ‘I should have gone to visit the governor, too,’ but I knew he was busy and felt like we had his support,” Dickson said later. “I also wondered if another entity protested our application.”

Dickson explained that the vast majority of SLIB applicants are required to come up with a match for the grant money, generally 50 percent and sometimes 25 percent. But such is not the case with the Lovell Main Street grant.

“The Town of Lovell doesn’t have a penny in this for a match,” he said. “Our match is the money WyDOT will spend on the project.”

Dickson said when discussions began two years ago on the Main Street Phase, SLIB and the WWDC recommended low-interest loans, rather than grants, to pay for the project. But the Lovell Town Council refused to borrow any more money on the project, pointing out Lovell’s already high water and sewer rates and realizing that incurring more debt would force rates to be increased again. He said with a $7 million bond issue approved by Lovell voters, a $550,000 revenue bond and other funding, the town has put approximately $10 million in town (citizens’) money into the infrastruture project.

“In a comparison of water rates with similar size communities in Wyoming, our rates are half again higher than some of them,” Dickson noted.

With all of that in mind, the governor’s motion to exclude Lovell from the consent list sent fear down Dickson’s spine. But then the governor asked Dickson to talk about the high water rates, the funding the town had contributed and the joint nature of the various phases of the project.

“He already knew the answers to his questions, and I explained that this is the final phase of a multi-phase project,” Dickson said. “He said, ‘I left you off the consent list so I would have the opportunity to ask questions of you. I would like to compliment you for the hard work and contributions of the town toward this project.’

“He said, ‘We appreciate it when applicants do as much as they can to help themselves before asking for grants.’ He asked for a motion to approve Lovell’s grant, which passed unanimously.”

Median strip

The project will be undertaken in 2014 and because of the proximity of the sewer line to the median strip, the project will require the removal of the median strip, and WyDOT has already asked for an official letter from the town stating whether the town will request the reconstruction of the median once the utility work is completed.

“We feel like we need to have another public meeting (about the median strip), which will be held just before our council meeting on Feb. 12,” Dickson said. “Then we’ll take action with a letter to WyDOT stating the council’s desire for the fate of the median strip.”

Dickson pointed out that the town would be responsible for the cost of replacing the median strip.

By David Peck