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Delinquent drillers leave a Wyoming county in the red


Rockies Today

November 8 · Issue #32 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Delinquent drillers leave a Wyoming county in the red
A single company was responsible for more than a quarter of the property tax base in Johnson County, Wyoming, last year. As the Buffalo Bulletin’s Mara Abbott reports, the company didn’t pay, and the county can’t do anything about it.
Unpaid taxes plague Johnson County, Wyoming Unpaid taxes plague Johnson County, Wyoming
Local oil and gas operators currently owe Johnson County $17 million in unpaid mineral and industrial property taxes, and according to Commissioner Bill Novotny, the county has no effective tools to recover the money – and no real protection against future debt.
Novotny urged the Legislature’s Select Committee for Coal and Mineral Bankruptcies at an Oct. 14 meeting to adopt regulations that will help Wyoming’s counties collect the money they are owed. 
“If (those companies) declare bankruptcy tomorrow, none of those funds will be recoverable,” Novotny said.
The county already canceled more than $500,000 from the rolls due between 2004 and 2008 and considered uncollectable after over a decade of delinquency.
“(Bankruptcy’s) the worst case,” Novotny later told the Bulletin, noting that while he wants more tax-collection leverage, he doesn’t want to see companies go under. “Then the county and the state are on the hook for revenue we’re never going to collect.”
More than two-thirds of Wyoming’s mineral production taxes fund education, and delinquencies cause budget deficits that impact school districts across the state. Locally, the balance goes into the county general fund and pays for entities such as the hospital, the museum or the fire district.
In 2018, the Powder River Basin Resource Council advocated for monthly collections in a report detailing the then $54 million in mineral taxes owed to 13 Wyoming counties.
According to a resource council update tallied this week, that figure is now above $84 million. Johnson County’s listed debt has skyrocketed, from under $800,000 to more than $12.2 million.
More oil and gas news:
What Broomfield’s anti-fracking council sweep says about Colorado’s oil and gas debate
Rare permit for Keystone oil pipeline in spotlight after spills
Report: 'No growth' in U.S. shale by 2021
The BLM's brain drain
BLM employees head for the exits rather than relocate BLM employees head for the exits rather than relocate
When you have to take care of your mother with Alzheimer’s, it is difficult to move across the country for a job. 
That is why one Bureau of Land Management employee, who has worked in the federal government for more than two decades, is not planning to accept her agency’s mandate that she move to Arizona. In the coming days, BLM will send out “management-directed relocation” notices to most of its Washington, D.C.-based staff, as it moves its headquarters to Colorado and shifts hundreds of other employees from the capital to state offices. 
“We have children here,” said the employee. “Our roots are here. We can’t move because we grew up here. This is our home.” 
The employee echoed the sentiments from several BLM employees who spoke to Government Executive on the condition of anonymity due to a fear of retaliation by the agency. The employees, all of whom already have plans to leave or are in the process of finding a new job, said they know of few colleagues who plan to accept their mandated relocations. Even some of those who will agree to move will do so only until they can find another job in D.C. and move back. They all lamented plummeting morale, a mistrust of leadership and a growing fear their work is, in reality, being removed rather than simply moved. 
More on the BLM and its acting director, William Perry Pendley:
On BLM move, Pendley says the West woos workers. Just maybe not existing ones
Pendley gets the anger over BLM’s Grand Junction move, but ‘We want to get it done’
Daines signals support for Pendley to stay at BLM
Interior Department proposes coveted water deal to ex-client of Secretary David Bernhardt
A recipe for rural resilience
The three keys to a thriving rural economy The three keys to a thriving rural economy
Casey Malmquist is a rural economic developer’s dream — SmartLam employs about 40 folks in the Flathead Valley, and Malmquist expects to hire 25 more this year as the company expands. That he and his company ended up here wasn’t happenstance, though, and the factors at play are backed up by research. That means people in other towns across the West have the opportunity to make their rural economies more diverse and resilient, too. 
In the 1990s, rural communities were growing quickly, and economists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted to know where folks were going, and why. Their first finding: scenery helps. “People really move to where the climate is nice, where there are mountains, where there’s water, and whatnot,” said David McGranahan with the USDA Economic Research Services. 
So, with data in hand justifying the snowbird migration to Arizona, McGranahan and crew wanted to better understand why some rural places do great, and others slip into the decline that often dominates the rural narrative. Further research confirmed that the presence of a creative class is correlated with growing economies in rural communities, but they can’t just be there — they have to start value-add companies. 
In a 2010 report, McGranahan and his team spelled out this “rural growth trifecta”: leveraging outdoor amenities, presence of a creative class, and an “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” Together, they serve as a roadmap for rural communities trying to build resilient economies hinging on that oft-mentioned but rarely achieved variable: quality of life.
But does it hold up? “Well, it doesn’t work during the recession,” McGranahan said, laughing. “For this kind of system to work, there has to be some optimism.”
The rest of Bitterroot magazine’s weekly batch of stories:
This Wyoming greenhouse is a place for employees with disabilities to grow
Northwest tribes, already feeling the impact of climate change, are taking action
Dust kicked up from the West’s drying lakes is a looming health hazard
How myths shape the West
From the Bundys to cheap burgundy: How myths shape the West From the Bundys to cheap burgundy: How myths shape the West
Novelist Frank Bergon was born in Nevada in 1943 but grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where his family, of Basque ancestry, owned a ranch. Bergon headed east to earn degrees at Boston College and Harvard University. He taught literature for many years at Vassar College in New York, but his heart and imagination never left the West, the setting of most of his books. In his new essay collection, Two-Buck Chuck & The Marlboro Man: The New Old West, Bergon displays an acute awareness of what has changed and what has endured in the West in the past 70 years, especially when it comes to how the region’s myths influence its popular perception and the behavior of its inhabitants.
Bergon juxtaposes the idea of the Marlboro Man — the cigarette company’s most famous model was a rancher Bergon knew well, Darrell Winfield — with the 2014 Bundy standoff over grazing rights in Nevada. The men who instigated that conflict, Bergon writes, were inspired in part by the tobacco company’s promotion of an ideal: the independent, assertive, heroic Westerner of yore. Throughout these essays, Bergon highlights the feedback loop between how myth, movies and advertisements style the West, and how Westerners actually live in it today.
What else we're reading today
E-bikes are coming to federally owned trails: 4 questions answered
San Juan County voters defeat ballot measure to study change in government
Madison blues: Petitions demand changes for popular river
Wyoming delegation opposes bill to secure coal miners' benefits
How a new business model could save America's disappearing local newsrooms
Emails are being purged across Colorado state government
Attorneys in court debate Idaho Press Club's ability to sue Ada County over records
Farmers struggle as hemp harvest winds down
What motivates poachers? A Montana researcher explains
Glacier Conservancy raises funds for lynx research, education
Has climate news coverage finally turned a corner?
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812