NEWS BRIEFS for Friday, Mar. 8, 2019

From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers


Legislature’s budget means 2 percent raise for UW staff

LARAMIE (WNE) — A $2.77 million appropriation for the University of Wyoming in the Legislature’s supplemental budget will be used to give an across-the-board raise to all general-funded employees at the university.

Jeanne Durr, UW’s human resources director, said Thursday she’s expecting that will mean a 2 percent increase for all employees making less than $80,000.

The raise for employees making more than $80,000 will be capped at about $1,600.

Durr said she hopes that employees not paid via the university’s general fund, like dining staff and grant-funded positions, will also receive a 2 percent raise. However, that will depend on UW’s ability to find other internal funds to pay that staff.

When former Gov. Matt Mead had requested supplemental budget funding to give raises at UW, the initial purpose was to give raises to the university’s “classified staff” — meaning non-faculty and non-administrators.

However, by the time the Legislature passed the budget, the money given to UW is required to be “uniformly distributed to employees … in a uniform percentage for the portion of any employee’s or position’s generally funded salary.”

The announcement of a 2 percent raise came during a town hall meeting at the Wyoming Union, where UW President Laurie Nichols and other administrators discussed the legislative session and other major projects at the university.

Nichols discussed UW’s new funding finalized with Gov. Mark Gordon’s signature last week.

While some key projects went unfunded by the Legislature, Nichols said it’s “a huge victory” that UW received nearly $24 million in new money.

Meth distribution in jail earns woman up to 6 years in prison

GILLETTE (WNE) — A woman who smuggled meth into the Campbell County jail that was given to four other women will spend up to six years in prison.

In sentencing her, District Judge Michael N. “Nick” Deegan expressed hope that Hallie M. Stratton, 23, will get the help she needs in prison to treat her addiction, which he said was the root of the problems that she found herself in.

“I totally believe that as you sit there right now, you’re committed to turning things around,” he told Stratton.

While Deegan said that prison is a costly form of treatment, he was “painted into a corner” because of her crimes — past and present – that made her an unfit candidate for probation.

He sentenced her to 54 to 72 months in prison for delivery of meth and 30 to 36 months for taking meth into jail. The terms are to be served concurrently with each other and a probation revocation in Converse County for possession with intent to deliver meth.

Stratton told Deegan that she hoped for the time in prison so she could work on her addiction issues.

She had noted earlier that she had been sober for about 1.5 years after treatment before she had “a major relapse.”

It was during that relapse that she was arrested and booked into Campbell County jail on April 19 for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and meth. Stratton hid the meth in her vagina and gave it to two other women who were incarcerated for drug crimes. One of them, Brandi Lou Bell, 38, was charged with giving it to three others, who along with Bell all tested positive for meth in a urinalysis conducted at the jail after officers suspected they’d used meth.

26 locals charged, 15 arrested in sweeping drug investigations in Uinta County

EVANSTON (WNE) — Local law enforcement arrested 15 people charged with drug crimes Thursday, March 7. Eleven more locals are charged but are either already incarcerated or should soon be in custody, according to Evanston Police Lt. Ken Pearson.

As a result of several investigations conducted jointly by the Evanston Police Department, Uinta County Sheriff’s Office, and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Southwest Enforcement Team, concerning the distribution of controlled substances in the Uinta County area, 26 subjects were recently charged by the Uinta County Attorney’s Office. 

On Thursday, March 7, 15 of those subjects charged were arrested.

Most were charged with the delivery or conspiracy to deliver Methamphetamine.

The Southwest Enforcement Team is comprised of agents from the Division of Criminal Investigation, Evanston Police Department, Green River Police Department, Uinta County Sheriff’s Office, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and Carbon County Sheriff’s Office. 

State will help fund downtown Cheyenne flood mitigation

CHEYENNE (WNE) -– The Wyoming Legislature recently earmarked $3 million in capital construction funding for Cheyenne to finish a major stormwater diversion project meant to address flooding around the state Capitol complex.

The money will help fund the lion’s share of the cost for the city to finish the 26th Street interceptor project, meant to divert stormwater away from downtown and into Crow Creek. The $3 million will be made available to Cheyenne through a grant application, which the city is currently working to complete.

Cheyenne had completed a large portion of the 26th Street project in 2017, but unforeseen cost constraints limited the scope of the project and kept it from being a benefit to the Capitol complex. City Engineer Amy Allen said the funding will allow the city to extend the stormwater retention system to the Capitol.

The current interceptor ties into existing stormwater pipe at Snyder Avenue and 23rd Street. From there, it runs east to Reed Avenue, north to 26th Street and then east again to O’Neil Avenue. The $3 million put aside by state lawmakers will fund completion of the system from O’Neil Avenue to Capitol Avenue, Allen said.

“It’s a great project, and it’s a positive one we’ve been looking forward to for some time,” Allen said.

Allen estimated the project would cost about $3.3 million, and the city was in the process of finding a way to secure the additional funding.

Enzi, Barrasso call for extra H-2B visas

JACKSON (WNE) — Wyoming’s U.S. senators joined nearly 140 members of Congress in urging the Trump administration to admit nearly 70,000 more H-2B visa workers in the 2019 fiscal year.

The program brings workers from around the world to fill temporary, nonagricultural jobs in America, from housekeeping to cooking to construction. The federal government caps the number of H-2B visas, an integral piece of Jackson’s seasonal economy, at 66,000 per year — half for April through September and half for October through March.

But in recent years, requests for seasonal workers have been on the rise nationwide, including in Wyoming. Jackson’s demand for H-2B visa-holders roughly doubled from about 230 to about 450 between 2014-15 and 2016-17.

So Sen. John Barrasso and Sen. Mike Enzi signed a letter calling on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to let supply rise to meet demand.

“If significant H-2B cap relief is not provided,” the letter states, “there will be severe consequences for seasonal businesses and our economy generally.”

The appropriations package Congress approved in February authorized Nielsen to add nearly 70,000 more visas.

Her department released an additional 15,000 visas in both the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years. But the lawmakers argued that these increases “were wholly inadequate to meet the demonstrated, certified needs of our seasonal employers.”

“We strongly urge you,” the letter states, “to use the discretion afforded your office ... to release, without delay and to the greatest extent allowed by law, additional H-2B visas.”