NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020

After a decade of vacancy, Hitching Post Inn finally to be purchased

CHEYENNE (WNE) – The Hitching Post has sat vacant on the west edge of town for more than a decade, serving as an eyesore to visitors and a thorn in the side of city officials.

And after debating what to do about the almost 10-acre property for years, it seems the city has found an answer in private developer John Koehler, who has a signed purchase agreement for the property that’s expected to be finalized in mid-April. Koehler told the Finance Committee last week that due to the spread of coronavirus, that date could be pushed back.

After closing on the purchase, Koehler’s limited liability company, JPK TR Cheyenne II, will then donate the back portion of the Hitching Post property to the city.

At the Cheyenne City Council meeting Monday, the city postponed accepting the donation due to technical difficulties on its livestream. Upon arriving on that agenda item, the teleconference went haywire, and the council decided it was best to hold a special meeting on the topic before the next scheduled council meeting.

The donation includes three of the Hitching Post buildings and access to the Ice and Events Center from Lincolnway. With Koehler’s redevelopment of the old hotel, the city also gets one less blighted building in the community.

“This is an exciting game-changer for that entire area,” Mayor Marian Orr said.


With tribe $181k short on payables, fiscal officer seeks funds from casino

RIVERTON (WNE) — While tribe-owned casinos closed their doors to limit coronavirus spread on Monday, the Northern Arapaho Business Council received a letter announcing their own financial crisis.

The tribe's accounts payable bank ledger was $181,075 in the hole on Monday, according to a letter to the NABC from Northern Arapaho Tribe chief financial officer Ryan Ortiz.

The deficit occurred before the casinos closed.

In the letter, Ortiz asked for funds from the casino's account to help manage the imbalance and pay the tribe's bills.

"As we all know, the WRC (casino) has put aside $600,000 to purchase a gasoline business," he wrote in the letter obtained by The Ranger. "With a huge reduction of cash flows I suggest that the WRC send that to us for use as needed during this situation."

The reallocation of what was intended as the tribe's prospective gasoline business startup fund into accounts payable would give the tribe $418,925 with which to pay bills, based on the reported shortfall.

Internal payroll, reportedly, is managed through a separate account.

"The global economic downturn and decline in oil and gas prices have real ramifications for the Northern Arapaho Tribe," wrote NAT communications director Matthew Benson on Wednesday evening.

Benson added that the business council will try to minimize the financial impact on tribal members caused by the economic fallout in the minerals industry.



Wyoming approved for Main Street Facade Improvement Grant Program

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — Main Street America has announced that Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina and Wyoming have been selected to participate in the Main Street Facade Improvement Grant Program, made possible by a $746,900 grant from the Historic Revitalization Subgrant Program as administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior.

The Main Street Facade Improvement Grant Program will significantly expand the funds available for facade improvements in rural communities.

In each of the four states selected, three Main Street community partners will receive grants for facade improvements in their downtown districts. Each community is expected to award between two and nine grants of up to $25,000 each, according to a press release.

Rock Springs Main Street/URA is one of the three Wyoming communities selected along with the Laramie Main Street Alliance and Main Street Thermopolis to award grants in those communities. The three Wyoming programs will work through Wyoming Main Street to administer the program.

The Main Street Facade Improvement Grant Program will demonstrate the power of coordinated, small-scale facade improvements on local economies, reinvigorate the image of these downtowns, and aim to attract private investment.

“We are thrilled to launch this program with our partners in Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Wyoming,” Main Street America’s Vice President of Revitalization Programs, Matthew Wagner, said in the release. “We know that façade improvements both preserve historic resources and spur economic growth in communities, and we are eager to start disbursing these funds to produce these changes in rural Main street communities.”


State cancels students' statewide assessment

CHEYENNE (WNE) – It’s unclear if Wyoming’s public schools will reopen in two weeks as planned – or what a delay could mean for the 93,832 students enrolled.

So far, it’s meant canceling the annual statewide assessment, known as WY-TOPP.

About a week ago, soon after health officials confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the state, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Gov. Mark Gordon recommended that all of Wyoming’s 48 school districts close through April 3. Within days, the majority, including LCSD1 and LCSD2 heeded the warning.

The unexpected time outside of the classroom, however, “really jeopardizes the validity and reliability of any statewide assessment at this time,” Balow said.

The state has administered WY-TOPP for two years, and uses it to collect data on how closely students in grades three through eight perform to grade level.

Moving forward, it will reuse last year’s data in place of this year’s missing data. Balow said that’s because at this point in the school year, “We’re too close to the assessment window, and we’re not even sure if we’re opening the schools back up in time for (WY-TOPP).”

Balow – along with numerous other state education chiefs – obtained waivers from the U.S. Department of Education on Friday that allows Wyoming to skip testing this spring.

Monday evening, the state Department of Education released a memo saying it has canceled all March dates for the ACT, but recommends administering an online version April 21. The state is also working with ACT to investigate the possibility of giving the test in May or next fall. The College Board, which oversees the AP program, has announced that it will deliver tests online.


U.S. Attorney warns of COVID-related fraud

RIVERTON (WNE) — The U.S. Attorney Mark A. Klaassen in charge of federal prosecutions in Wyoming is urging the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (coronavirus).

"It is unfortunate, but criminals often use times of adversity to their advantage," said U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen.

Some examples of potential fraud schemes to be aware of include:

  • Individuals and businesses selling fake testing kits, masks, treatments, or cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
  • "Phishing" e-mails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Robo-calls or phishing e-mails purporting to be airline or other travel cancellation communications that actually are scams used to collect personal information.
  • Malicious websites and ransomware apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
  • Persons seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
  • Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
  • Price gouging on high demand consumer products.

Citizens suspecting fraud related to the virus alert are advised to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or to the NCDF e-mail address [email protected].

In addition to the NCDF hotline and email account, citizens may also report any suspected fraud to the United States Attorney's Office, the Consumer Protection Unit of the Wyoming Attorney General, or their local law enforcement agencies.


Cody police involved in two chases
CODY (WNE) — Cody police officers were able to use spike strips to end a vehicle chase that began in Powell early Saturday morning and ended in Cody.

One suspect was taken into custody in Powell at the end of an earlier chase. 

Winter Killsnight, 25, of Billings, Montana, is facing a felony charge for theft of property valued more than $1,000, and five different misdemeanor charges including three counts for possession of controlled substance.

She was taken into custody at 11:42 a.m. Saturday.

Later that night two Montana men were arrested at Walmart for shoplifting and those two were scheduled for a hearing with Killsnight.

The wide-ranging series of incidents began at 3:14 a.m., when Cody police received a report of a stolen pickup truck.

About 20 minutes later a Powell officer located two vehicles traveling next to each other at a high rate of speed heading east into Powell on U.S. 14A.

One of the vehicles matched the description of the stolen truck. The driver fled when an officer attempted to stop it, and a vehicle pursuit ensued. During the pursuit, the suspect vehicle crashed into a Powell police vehicle before crashing into a canal. 

Powell officers attempted to make contact with the other vehicle and a second vehicle pursuit ensued westbound on U.S. 14A towards Cody. 

At 6:15 a.m., Cody police were notified of the pursuit and deployed the spike strips. At 6:23 a.m., the suspect vehicle arrived at that location and was successfully rendered inoperable. 

The second vehicle was determined to have been stolen from Billings.