NEWS BRIEFS for Friday, April 10, 2020

With “no viable economic path forward,” Cheyenne WYTEC plans to close

CHEYENNE (WNE) – All signs point to a California-based biomedical company closing its Cheyenne location in the near future.

Innovive, which is registered locally as WYTEC, employs around 30 people in Cheyenne. Until recently, the company was making plans to expand its local facilities.

But over the past two weeks, those plans appear to have changed.

An internal memo obtained by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle shows that Dee L. Conger, Innovive’s CEO, told WYTEC employees March 25 that “it is with a heavy heart that we announce the closure of our WYTEC operation” in Cheyenne.

“Our plans are to wind up our operations entirely over the coming few months,” the memo reads.

WYTEC, whose corporate representatives could not be reached for comment by press time Thursday, last month failed to secure a recommendation from the Wyoming Business Council for $6 million in grants and loans that would have helped cover expansion costs.

WYTEC is operating temporarily in the Aviation Professional Building on Airport Parkway in Cheyenne, and primarily develops sterilized rodent cages for medical research. The company wanted to build a new 57,000-square-foot building that could not only accommodate product manufacturing, but also sterilization, which is currently outsourced.


Riverton jail count continuing to fall amid virus crisis

RIVERTON (WTE) — The county's jail population is down to 116 - roughly half its New Year's total.

The Fremont County Detention Center suffered from overcrowding for at least three seasons prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Its current low numbers are due to restructuring of court processes locally amid exposure concerns, which were exacerbated by the threat of a crowded jail - and by a changing criminal element.

Fremont County Sheriff Ryan Lee called the decrease a relief.

"Obviously it frees up space, and it lessens the stress on employees," said the sheriff, emphasizing that an outbreak in the jail would impact inmates, deputy sheriffs and associated staff who work in the jail - and the taxpayer as well.

In the event of an outbreak, non-hospitalized inmates would be quarantined within the jail. Staff members would be sent to their homes.

Lee's office for months had negotiated deals with other jails, arranged home confinement, and juggled other solutions to the longtime overcrowding, often with cost complications of normal incarceration expenses.

During the week of March 23, the jail volume dropped from 187 to 155 inmates - then an unheard-of low for five years. Numbers kept plunging, to a 15-year-low of 116 on Wednesday, just three months after mid-winter spikes of 210.

The numbers continue to plunge because of altered court processes, but also because local courts and police are being "careful about whom we're taking into custody," said Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun.

He noted that courts take "extreme care to only keep people in jail that we feel are clearly, presently dangerous, or are charged with felonies."

Fremont County Public Defender Jonathan Gerard clarified the heightened law enforcement discretion, saying the jail has continued to empty because of both limited responses and a drop in some violent crimes.

"They're pretty much only arresting for violent crimes, and there haven't been, almost, any," said Gerard in a voice message on Wednesday.


Jackson Town Council votes to raise salaries for elected officials

JACKSON (WNE) — The Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to raise salaries next year for councilors and Jackson’s next mayor.

Compensation for councilors and the mayor has not been increased since 2005, vice-mayor Hailey Morton Levinson said.

“It’s adjusting for inflation,” she said during the council meeting.

Council members make $25,000 annually and the mayor makes $30,000, according to a staff report.

The ordinance passed its first reading Monday and will go through two more readings April 20 and May 4. If approved through all three readings, the ordinance will increase council salaries to $33,700 and the mayor’s salary to $40,425.

Before receiving the higher salaries, the councilors and mayor would have to first win their elections in the fall, with the raises going into effect in January 2021.

Mayor Pete Muldoon previously announced that he’ll run for a council seat this fall, and Levinson is running for mayor. Muldoon said the increases will serve the people of Jackson in attracting a more diverse pool of candidates.

In comparison, Teton County commissioners each earned $50,000 annually in 2019, according to public records. Neither town council nor county commission roles are considered full-time jobs.

The town council met 76 times in 2019, according to a staff report.

The vote for salary increases comes at an awkward time for the town, now in the middle of budget cut discussions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Town Manager Larry Pardee has asked department heads to look at cutting their individual budgets by 20% “to prepare for the future” but still “deliver core services.”

But Muldoon said the town doesn’t plan to make blanket cuts.


Airline trims service to one flight a day out of Riverton Regional Airport 

RIVERTON (WNE) — United Express Airlines has cut its service to one flight per day between Riverton and Denver.

The airline said the reduced schedule is due to a "significant reduction in demand nationwide in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic."

United Airlines will contact passengers affected by the change.

Meanwhile, airport managers have decided to limit access to the terminal in Riverton in order to minimize the spread of coronavirus. Now only ticketed airline passengers, rental car customers, airport and tenant employees, and individuals aiding ticketed seniors, passengers with disabilities, or unaccompanied minors may enter the terminal.

"Those wishing to meet and greet friends and loved ones can do so from the comfort of their vehicle outside the terminal," public works director Kyle Butterfield said in a press release.

He noted that the airport has not experienced any known occurrences of COVID-19 at this time. 

Instead, he said, the changes at the airport represent "proactive measures to help exercise social distancing and to help minimize the spread of COVID-19."

"The city, the airport, and its partner airline have taken numerous steps to ensure the safety of the traveling public including enhanced cleaning and sanitation procedures," he added.