County, town, UGRCD talk cemetery plots

PINEDALE – Where do you go when you die? It may not be in Pinedale if you're not already on the list.

Members of the Upper Green River Cemetery District approached the Sublette County Board of Commissioners during the board’s Jan. 18 meeting for another land discussion. As district vice chairman Don Schooley said at a previous meeting, the Pinedale Cemetery is running out of space and possible new 5-acre plot behind the proposed Sublette County critical access hospital would help but only be a temporary solution. As of that meeting, there were only 40 plots available.

Pinedale Mayor Matt Murdock was invited into the discussion and explained that, through conversations he’s had with the United States Department of Agriculture, Sublette County Hospital District and other state institutions, he advised no space commitment until a decision is made regarding the hospital. As Murdock explained, SCHD has proposed moving the ditch and if the UGRCD rushed to involvement, it could be on the hook for some of those financials. And if the UGRCD did not want to continue to wait until a decision was made, it would have to seek expansion on its own dime.

“It is a tax district and if they want to pay fair market value for it, we can have that conversation and that discussion,” Murdock said. “But I kind of feel like the cemetery district would not like to go there.”

Murdock said they’ve annexed some areas and the town is looking at property knowing the cemetery district needs more land.

Pinedale’s mayor also took time to clarify issues on the land. The nearly-century-old 1925 patent, which draws upon standings from 1890, stipulates land use for parks and cemetery use.

“It was for municipalities to have land to grow into,” Murdock said. “There’s this perception that there’s a certain amount of land up there for cemeteries and parks, but that is not the case, it’s actually just the whereas for the opening document.

“If you look at it you have the cemetery district, the clinic, senior housing, Rendezvous Pointe, Discovery Center, Museum of the Mountain Man, none of these have been contested uses and nobody’s ever claimed that that land belongs to the cemetery.”

Murdock stressed that the land needs to be used responsibly and that cemetery use would be a responsible use of it, but waiting would be in everyone’s best interest for the time being.

Commissioner Doug Vickrey told Murdock to get the SCHD to state its needs. He also said the issue needs to be moved to the town’s front burner so locals can reserve a place for their loved ones.

“Put them under the gun,” he said.

Murdock explained it’s always been his intention to solve this issue during the remainder of his term.

But the proposed 4- or 5-acre lot the UGRCD discussed during the meeting would only be a short-term solution. Currently, the district is selling 100 plots per year and maybe 200 plots could be developed on 4 acres, Carmen Hittle said.

District members said they looked into private and BLM land. The option along Pole Creek gained the most traction but it wasn’t enough land. And, most of those options discussed involved the possibility of groundwater.

Commissioners asked how much acreage the UGRCD needed. Commissioner Tom Noble said that, because the cemetery has its own elected officials and own mil levy, county land would be transferred at fair market value.

“I’m not trying to be the bad guy here,” he said. “I’m just saying, I’d appreciate if you’d look into other properties.”

Renne Reed, cemetery district administrator, said they found a pristine 160-acre plot of land that wouldn’t be far from town but it was listed for $1.4 million. And not all 160 of those acres would be usable. Commissioner Sam White said he’d like to see a land survey to determine how many lots would be available from that.

Discussions with the cemetery district continued beyond land into insurance. County clerk Carrie Long explained the issue stemmed from the county’s stop-loss coverage. Because cemetery district personnel are not employees of Sublette County and are its own distinct entity, any attempted claim could be denied by stop-loss insurance would not pay and the county would be left on the hook. Historically, the county has paid the bill whenever a cemetery district employee has gone to the doctor.

“As things get tighter and the board scrutinizes the budget, I felt like the board needed to know they are also paying the claims for the cemetery district,” Long said, “so that’s why that’s here today.”

It was ultimately determined cemetery district personnel would be covered until its next budget in September.

Commissioners also discussed insurance for the county’s weed and pest board for the same reason Long brought up the cemetery district insurance issue. Noble said he’d prefer to see that board, which is also its own entity with its own mil levy, be responsible for its own insurance. Vickrey agreed, to the room’s bewilderment. Nearly every commissioner followed in agreement to close discussions.

Other items:

  • Public Health nurse Janna Lee was approved of a county contract to seek grant money to administer COVID-19 vaccines. That lasts for two years. Commissioner Vickrey asked about the importance of a booster, which Lee said she recommended to prevent hospitalizations. Lee said statistics lag behind in Sublette County and the omicron variant is sweeping through. Vickrey asked if the message was to “stop buying from China,” which Lee avoided and instead urged people to get vaccinated. Vickrey’s comment came months after board chair Joel Bousman inferred a new variant of the coronavirus would come “whenever China released a new one.”
  • Commissioners approved Sublette County Sheriff KC Lehr’s request to increase the 911 surcharge from 50 cents to 75 cents. That is a line item on the monthly bills of cellphones, land lines, radios, anything that can contact 911. There’s a Wyoming state statute that caps charges at 75 cents per month and the county’s previous 50-cent charge was considerably low.
  • Following an extended executive session involving interviews to start the day, commissioners offered the IT director job to Lisa Copeland.