NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020

Lawmakers table career and technical education expansion proposal

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A plan that would allow high school and community college students to earn school credit while also getting paid to learn skilled trades will have to wait until next year.

The House Education Committee unanimously voted Monday night to table House Bill 242, which would have created the Wyoming Learning and Labor program, citing too many loose ends in the proposal’s language.

The program, which was projected to cost $500,000, would have created a partnership between employers, school districts and community colleges to create – and fund – a new path for certifications in instrumentation, welding and machining.

“I felt that we had to take a step forward for career and technical education, and that had to involve industry,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, told the committee. Last year, the Wyoming Legislature approved extending the state’s Hathaway Scholarship to include funding a vocational education pathway. It also established the need-based Wyoming Works grant program, which awards up to one year of grant money to community college students looking to get certified in a skilled trade. Wyoming Works, however, does not include a partnership with industry leaders.

Greear said he chose to limit the would-be program’s focus to machining and welding because from what he’s seen as president and CEO of Wyoming Sugar Company “this is an area that needs people.” Greear said he got the idea for the bill after running into difficulty when recruiting workers to staff his company’s machine shop.


Coronovirus risk remains low in Wyoming

GILLETTE (WNE) — The number of reported cases of the coronavirus disease continues to grow around the world, the risk of an outbreak is still low in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

“We have seen no reported or suspected cases in our state so far and that’s why we are saying the risk to our state’s residents from this virus is still low," said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the department. "However, we also closely tracking COVID-19 and preparing as needed should the risk for Wyoming residents change.”

The coronavirus, known as COVID-19 for its initial and the year in started, has symptoms that have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said state offices and agencies continue to monitor the situation.

"It is also the height of flu season and I want to urge people to be doubly diligent in taking common-sense precautions to protect themselves from illness," he said.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold in people and others that circulate among animals.

“Because COVID-19 is a new virus and because it is spreading, it warrants special concern,” Harrist said. “Those conditions also likely fuel rumors. We’ve heard a few and that’s why we are continuing to provide credible information for Wyoming residents.”


Man dies after jumping from car

SHERIDAN (WNE) — A Texas resident led Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers on a pursuit before jumping from a moving vehicle Feb. 21. The pursuit started near Sheridan on Interstate 90.

WHP troopers were notified of a suspected drunk driver near Sheridan. Troopers were able to locate a vehicle matching the description of the alleged drunk driver speeding 97 mph in a 75 mph-posted speed zone.

The WHP trooper turned on his emergency lights and sirens to attempt to stop the vehicle. The driver failed to stop for the trooper and fled east on I-90 at speeds of 85 to 90 mph.

As the trooper was pursuing the vehicle, he could see the driver reaching out of the sunroof with his hands. A short time later, the driver exited through the sunroof and jumped onto the roadway while the vehicle was still moving around 80 miles per hour. The vehicle crashed a short time later into the median cable divider.

The trooper immediately called for an ambulance and attempted to perform CPR on the subject.

Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office aided WHP in life-saving measures and traffic control.

Emergency medical services arrived a short time later and pronounced the driver deceased and the Sheridan County coroner was called. The pursuit lasted around five miles.

The driver has been identified as 43-year-old Marshall R. Acker of Tyler, Texas.


Ten Wyoming airports get federal grants

EVANSTON (WNE) — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced last week that the U.S. Department of Transportation will award $7.2 million in airport safety and infrastructure grants to 10 airports in Wyoming. 

This investment in Wyoming’s airports is part of a $520.5 million national investment in America’s airports that was announced recently by Secretary Chao. 

The airports receiving Airport Improvement Program grants in Wyoming include: Evanston-Uinta County Burns Field — $317,429 to fund rebuilding an apron. 

Casper/Natrona County International Airport — two separate grants, one for $253,911 to fund renovating and expanding a snow removal equipment building and another for $850,000 to fund the purchase of snow removal equipment.

Yellowstone Regional Airport — $1,441,029 to fund building an access road, and building/ improving a parking lot. 

Dixon Airport — $183,000 to fund runway repairs. 

Jackson Hole Airport — $2,764,003 to fund repairing an access road. 

Pine Bluffs Municipal Airport— $181,865 to fund construction of a terminal building and building/improving a hanger. 

Powell Municipal Airport — $621,390 to fund building a taxiway. 

Riverton Regional Airport — two separate grants, one for $150,000 to purchase or repair an emergency generator and a second for $200,000 to fund repairing a taxiway. 

Hot Springs County Airport — $169,386 to fund a new airport master plan or study. 

Worland Municipal Airport — $155,867 to fund widening a taxiway.


Exxon owed $387,000 tax refund

PINEDALE (WNE) – Adjustments made to 2017 and 2018 tax reporting means Exxon Mobil is owed $387,276 and change. 

However, the real losers are specials districts and county entities that must pay money back that may have been spent two or three years ago.

Commissioners were notified at the Feb. 18 meeting of the large adjustment by Sublette County Treasurer Emily Paravicini. 

Notices of Valuation Change are handed down to county treasurers by the State of Wyoming. In this case Exxon Mobil found an error in its self-reported numbers. 

The refunds must be paid to the company within one year of the county receiving the notice from the state. When the amount exceeds $200,000, the county has an option to contact the company to negotiate a repayment plan. The company can either negotiate or demand the money immediately.

The problem is not new to Sublette County. Past rebates hit the county after many small boards had already spent the money. 

A reserve fund was established by Sublette County to repay a refund within the mandated one year required by law. Those districts still must repay the county and the amounts are deducted from future tax receipts. That buys them time to adjust future budgets.

As those future tax receipts are withheld, the funds go back into the county’s reserve account to repay the advance.