WACD grapples against proposed special districts legislationWritten by Saige Albert
Isolated challenges with a few special districts across Wyoming lead the Wyoming Legislature to pursue the formation of the Task Force on Special Districts, a group that was convened to discuss the oversight, accountability and fiscal responsibility along with dissolution procedures for special districts.
Over the last four months, the Task Force, which includes two house members, two senate members and numerous gubernatorial appointees, met and developed recommendations that advanced to the Joint Corporations, Political Subdivisions and Elections Committee.
“There were three special district representatives on the Task Force,” explained Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) Executive Director Bobbie Frank during the WACD Area II meeting on Sept. 14. “Shaun Sims, WACD president was one of those, representing elected special district boards.”
After four meetings of the Task Force, four bills came out of the committee that advanced to Corporations Committee.
“We do have concerns with one specific bill and some specific concerns with the Budget bill as it pertains to mandatory training,” Frank commented.
The Corporations Committee heard testimony on the bill on Sept. 15, the majority of which included opposition to the Commissioner dissolution bill. The Committee did not take action on the bills but will take them up again at their Nov. 21-22 meeting in Cheyenne.
The most recent meeting of the Task Force on Special Districts was held on Sept. 9.
The Task Force moved four bills forward, including one to authorize County Commissions, upon hearing and finding of violation of statute, to initiate a dissolution process, one to add additional budgeting requirements to existing statutory requirements, one to except Boards of Cooperative Education from special district requirements and a Special District Elections bill, said Frank.
Currently, statutory authority provides that County Commissioners can dissolve a special district if the district did not elect a board or if the district is uninhabited.
Frank explained, “This bills adds a third authority to dissolve a district after a hearing with the governing board if the County Commissioners find the district has violated provisions within Title 16, Chapter 12 of Wyoming Statutes.”
“This bill would apply to all 28 types of special districts in the state, ranging from Improvement and Service and Predator Management Districts to Conservancy and Watershed Improvement Districts among many others, including Conservation Districts. Under the language, if Commissioners find a violation, then the next step would be a plan for dissolution and an election on the dissolution conducted by the special district itself,” she continued.
The second bill includes existing language from Chapter 12, with additional language from other statutes that largely relate to budget oversight.
“We’re still working to determine exactly what is included in this second bill,” Frank explained, noting that budget requirements are among the changes for special districts.
Budget and training requirements
“Most of the budget requirements are things that conservation districts are already doing,” Frank explained.
However, one piece that is concerning is mandatory special district board training.
“We agree that training is very important, and we have a very robust training program that, in partnership with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, is provided to our Conservation Districts,” she explained. “However there is not yet a statewide consistent special district training program, so we believe it is premature to include this requirement in the legislation. ”
She also noted that the bill is unclear whether training is required for how many board members or how often.
A group was appointed, including Frank, the State Department of Audit Director, Secretary of State representative and County Clerk representative to put together a training manual.
“We met once and put an outline together, but we also said we believe we’re going to need a special district training manual,” she said. “It is going to take a significant amount of time to put together, and we think we need to have training manuals out long before we make training mandatory.”
The legislation would require that any money in reserve accounts would have to be justified through a reserve policy. This is an action already either in place or in works in Conservation Districts.
Overall, Frank noted that the WACD Board expressed concern over the bills and opposed them during the Sept. 15 meeting.
“We do not believe it is appropriate to have one judicial decisions made in this matter over another elected board, absent the two provisions that are already in statute,” Frank emphasized. “If a board is going to have been found violating a law, we have a process for that.”
“The Conservation Districts work very hard to be accountable to their taxpayers and transparent in their business dealings and comply with the array of state requirements and work hard to have good relations with their Commissioners,” Frank added. “However, our Board of Directors does not believe it is appropriate to have one elected board make judicial decisions on violation of statute over another elected board. ”
WACD’s board agreed that, if the bills move forward, a hearing under these provisions should proceed in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act, including a contested case hearing.
“We will continue to be involved in the discussions and look forward to conversations about how to ensure accountability without going forward with overbroad legislation to address a few issues,” Frank noted.