Opinions differ on aiding Panhandle Coop in expansion

TORRINGTON – Community members were undecided on whether the city of Torrington should apply for a Business Ready Community Grant and Loan Program which would provide aid to the Panhandle Coop in the purchase of the Wyoming Ethanol Facility. 

Lisa Miller, CEO of Goshen County Economic Development, presented a proposal to the council requesting the authorization.

“This exciting win-win opportunity is a perfect fit for Goshen County,” said Miller. “The Business Ready Community application is for a $2.5 million grant request to purchase the current Wyoming Ethanol Facility, which has sat vacant for many years. Per the grant application, the city of Torrington would become the owner in order to comply with grant requirements that the facility be publicly owned. The city of Torrington will in-turn lease the facility back to Panhandle Coop.”

Miller explained Panhandle Coop is set to invest another $1.5 million into the facility for equipment and renovations. She added, Panhandle Coop intends to keep their current workforce and add five staff members. They then plan to expand as they are capable.

Mayor Randy Adams asked, “Why did Panhandle Coop decide to come to Wyoming?” Miller replied, they believed Torrington was a perfect location with their current operations for a regional hub. It took an act from the board of directors in Nebraska to make the investment in Torrington and Goshen County. 

The matter was opened for public comment. Adams asked those in favor of the project to speak first. Dennis Kelly, a Torrington resident, asked if there would be a “huge expense” to the city to upgrade utilities at the facility. Adams told Kelly there were already utilities provided by the city at the facility. Adams said he did not believe there was any need for further improvements, at this time. 

Adams asked for those opposed to the project to speak next. Torrington resident, Russell Zimmer, submitted a written statement to the council and asked that Adams read the comments. In the letter, Zimmer told the council there was an insufficient, seven-day notice to the city about the proposal. City Attorney James Eddington responded, stating the rules set forth by the grant indicated they submit a seven-day notice. Zimmer added he had also read the rules and confirmed the rule about the seven-day notice. He argued that this is not long enough, regardless of the rules. 

Zimmer also posed several questions: why does the city of Torrington want to purchase the ethanol facility? What would the costs be to the city of Torrington to purchase the facility? Where will the money to pay for it come from? Has an independent appraiser appraised this facility? Does the city of Torrington have legal jurisdiction to purchase private property outside of the city limits? Would the county and city lose tax revenue from changing ownership from private to municipal, and if so, how much?

Adams answered the questions respectively. “We want to be involved in it,” said Adams. Adams explained his unwillingness to get involved, at first. He then decided that he would like to get involved as he felt it would be a good project that would benefit the city. 

Adams explained the Panhandle Coop has already purchased the building, but they need the grant to complete the payment arrangement. “We will own the facility in name only; it will be owned, operated and run by the coop,” said Adams.

Eddington clarified there would be terms and agreements negotiated before the city would agree to anything being done with the facility. 

According to Adams, the only cost incurred to the city would be time and effort from the staff. There is no intention to use public funds for the facility. The money would come directly from the grant and not from the pockets of citizens.

Brayden Connour of Goshen County Economic Development told the council, via a phone call, an independent, third party appraisal has already been completed. 

Adams told Zimmer the city does have the power to purchase property outside of city limits. He added there would be a separate annexation if they purchased it. 

Adams said the county will not lose anything and the city will gain from the project if the property is annexed into the city.

Vicky Zimmer of Torrington also addressed the council. She expressed she does not have any opposition to Panhandle Coop, but she felt it would set a bad precedent. “Other people will want money from the city, it’s a bad way to start out, giving preferential treatment to a business.”

Zimmer noted the company’s financial profit and loss in 2018 showed a loss of over $1 million. In 2019, the profit of the company was $24 thousand. Zimmer wished to know if the company could take on this amount of debt, in addition to what they already have and expressed her belief, “this is a bad thing for the city to get involved with.” 

The public hearing closed, and the councilors discussed the application. Councilwoman Deanna Hill said, “it’s not the city giving anything away, if we don’t like the agreement, it doesn’t happen.”

Hill also expressed that she was excited about the project and would not vote on it if there was something that did not look right with it. 

Councilman Bill Law commented, as well. “We are shepherding an opportunity.” Law explained how the project would make the tax base stronger and open the door for a good growth potential. Law added his belief the project could fail in the operational aspect, not in the start-up.

Councilman Rick Patterson said everything was answered to his satisfaction. He noted he came in opposed but changed his mind and sees the project as a positive, going forward. He also informed the council the Panhandle Coop has a boardman who lives in Goshen County and has been a presence for years and years. Patterson said he did not have any issues with the company’s integrity but did have fiscal concerns. He clarified; all the council is doing is sponsoring a grant. 

The resolution passed to approve the submission of the application. Adams told Miller to go forth with her application. 

Ordinance amendments were presented to the council by Tom Troxel, the Water and Waste Supervisor for the City of Torrington. These amendments would allow the city of Torrington to collect fees for lots under the authority of the city of Torrington for water and sewer hook-ups. Currently, ordinances do not allow the city to collect any fees for any lot within the city. 

Troxel asked the ordinance be amended to allow a fee that would be then be set aside in  an account which could be used for future enhancements to the water plant and waster water facilities. 

If these ordinances pass, property owners and developers will pay system development fees and the fees will be placed in a dedicated fund outside of the city’s general fund. 

Oct. 4 through Oct. 10 was proclaimed ‘Fire Prevention Week’ by the council at the Oct. 6 meeting. Eddington read the proclamation before the council. Dennis Estes, city of Torrington Building Official, urged citizens to purchase smoke detectors for their homes. He also discussed several virtual activities and online projects through the National Fire Protection Association and their website, nfpa.org. 

“The fire department here in town does a great job, but we need some help. If people would just check their smoke detectors, there is a lot of houses we go to, still, that do not even have them, or you can see the lid open and the battery is gone,” said Estes.

“What we need to do is make sure they are in every bedroom especially, and every hallway leading into a bedroom, and then they need to have one on each floor,” said Estes. 

Estes said the fire department sees a lot of rubbish and trash around properties. He said the fire department spends a lot of time at locations like these and cited a recent event where a fire burned an abandoned trailer and the department spent a significant period going through trash and piles of wood.
Estes encouraged anyone to call City Hall at (307) 532-5666 if they have questions or need assistance with fire prevention measures. Estes added Rick Donbraska is the Fire Prevention Officer for the fire department and can also help with these matters.

Sandy Hoehn with the Goshen County Chamber of Commerce discussed the upcoming ballot initiative to keep the lodging tax. “This is a tax that residents don’t pay, only visitors pay. The lodging tax has been in place since 1996. Travelers and guests visiting Goshen County’s hotels and campgrounds pay a 4% lodging tax, which is collected and utilized as the funding source for the gogoshen.com website, the visitor’s center, a grant program that promotes local events and marketing events, both locally and nationally to draw future revenue to our community through tourism.”

Hoehn said the grant program has awarded over $321 thousand to events such as Torrington’s Little Britches rodeo, LaGrange’s Mini-Fair, the Goshen County Quilt Show and Yee Haw Daze. Marketing efforts have resulted in 116-thousand overnight visitors in 2019. These travelers spent $33.8 million in Goshen County, generating $600 thousand in sales tax. 

Past projects included wayfinding signage, a golf course billboard in Cold Springs Business Park, two directional signs, brochures, maps, free website/social media promotion, a “things to do” handout specific to Torrington and much more.

Hoehn told the council, “in the future, Torrington residents can utilize the grant program, free handouts at the visitor’s center, informative bags for their visitors or events participants (and) free website/social media promotion.”

Hoehn added they have been working with the Wyoming Office of Tourism, Goshen Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce, along with other partners. She explained how the Goshen County Tourism Promotion Joint Powers Board has developed a strategic plan. This plan focuses on the promotion of Goshen County as a tourism and visitor destination to capture additional revenue, and as business travelers’ destination to create new business opportunities in our communities. 

“The lodging tax benefits the city,” proclaimed Adams. 

Hoehn, on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, also requested a Special Event Permit for the annual Safety Trunk or Treat Night scheduled for Oct. 30 from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in downtown Torrington. Hoehn requested the permit fee be waived, as well, as the event is a community event. 

Hoehn discussed the plans for the event with the council and explained the COVID-19 precautions that would be enforced to allow the event to happen. “It’s the parents’ responsibility to enforce,” said Hoehn of the event.

Parents will be required to ensure their children are social distancing. Business representatives will be asked to wear facemasks and hand sanitizer will be readily available to participants. Torrington business owners were consulted about the timing of the event and it was decided that the event will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., with setup occurring at 5 p.m. 

The council, by unanimous decision, decided to waive the permit fee and approved the event. 

Councilman Bill Law wanted to make citizens aware their will be kids out wandering about the town on both Friday and Saturday night. He advised drivers to be aware and pay extra attention to the added traffic around the community. 


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