Apr 22, 2016

Values of local homes keep rising; sales stay steady

Local homes sales held steady last year, according to data from the Park County Assessor’s Office.

Nearly as many houses were sold in 2015 as the year before and the median, middle-of-the-pack sale
price rose by more than 6 percent, to $225,000.

“It’s been a pretty stable market,” said Assessor Pat Meyer.

Meyer said residential property values have been slowly but consistently rising in recent years.

“It’s been a steady flow, and when you’ve got lots of sales, that usually is a good indicator” of a real estate market that’s doing fairly well, he said.

A total of 374 homes with 10 acres of property or less were sold last year. That’s about a dozen fewer sales than were made in 2014.

Sellers found buyers for 95 homes in Powell and 163 in Cody last year. Those figures were in line with 2014’s totals.

While it depends on the neighborhood and the price range, Meyer said houses in both cities generally increased by 2-4 percent in value between the two years.

“The rural ones are climbing a bit more, it looks like,” he said.

Houses in the $180,000 to $200,000 price range also appeared to be more popular, Meyer said.

His data also shows a sizable difference between the Cody and Powell real estate markets.

In Cody, the median selling price was $221,000; in Powell, meanwhile, the median sale price was $173,000 — or 28 percent less than Cody’s.

Cody's median price rose by more than 4 percent between 2014 and 2015; Powell's rose by less than 1 percent in value.

All of the locally assessed property values — which include homes, business equipment, agricultural land and commercial and industrial property — rose by an average of around 3.5 percent, Meyer said. State-assessed values of things such as oil and gas production will be calculated later.

Higher property values are good news if you’re preparing to re-sell a property, but they also generally mean having to pay higher property taxes.

~By CJ Baker

Apr 21, 2016

Plague found in three South Fork area cats

Three Cody area cats recently became infected with plague, the Wyoming Department of Health announced on Thursday.

All three of the cats lived off the South Fork Road, the department said in a news release. There are no reports of people being infected.

The Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory confirmed the first case of plague on April 12 and confirmed the third on Wednesday.

This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how plague can spread from infected fleas and rodents to other animals and people.
Plague is a serious bacterial infection and can be deadly for people or animals if not treated promptly with antibiotics, said State Public Health Veterinarian Karl Musgrave. As of Thursday, two of the infected cats had died.

The bacteria can be spread to humans by sick animals or by fleas that have fed on sick animals.

“We want people to know of the potential threat in the area the cats were from as well as across the state. Dogs can also become ill and transmit the disease,” Musgrave said in Thursday's release. “While the disease is rare in humans, it’s safe to assume that the risk for plague exists all around Wyoming.”

Several house cats in the southeastern part of the state became infected with plague in 2005 and another case was confirmed in the rural, western part of Laramie County last October. In this northwestern part of the state, four mountain lions in the Greater Yellowstone Area/Teton County were confirmed to have died of plague between 2005 and 2006, according to past Reuters and Associated Press reports.

Since 1978, six people have been infected with plague in Wyoming. The most recent case was in 2008, when a Boy Scout became ill after visiting Yellowstone National Park and parts of Teton County.

“It’s kind of always around and actual cases in humans are quite rare, but it’s possible,” said Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health. “So we want to find that balance between providing that education to remind people it’s something they need to consider — and perhaps in that (South Fork) area they want to look at it a little more closely — but also not pull a panic alarm here.”

The health department did not specify the exact area on the South Fork where the infected cats lived, in part because “we don’t want people to think it may only be in one area,” Deti said.

Musgrave recommends taking the following precautions to help prevent plague infections:

  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents
  • Avoid contact with rodent carcasses
  • Avoid areas with unexplained rodent die-offs
  • Use insect repellent on boots and pants when in areas that might have fleas
  • Use flea repellent on pets, and properly dispose of rodents that pets may bring home

The disease is basically the same one responsible for the “Black Death” that ravaged Europe in the 1300s — with the difference being that modern medicine has brought methods for limiting its spread and treating it. For example, only 10 cases of plague were reported in the United States in 2014 and all of those patients recovered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plague symptoms in animals can include enlarged lymph glands; swelling in the neck, face or around the ears; fever; chills; lack of energy; coughing; vomiting; diarrhea and dehydration. Ill animals should be taken to a veterinarian, the Department of Health said.

Plague symptoms in people can include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. The health department said people who are ill should seek professional medical attention.

More information about plague is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Commission penalizes contractor for late work at fairgrounds

An electrical contractor is being penalized more than $6,000 for finishing work at the Park County Fairgrounds more than five months late.

Park County commissioners decided on Tuesday to withhold half of Action Electric’s final payment as a kind of punishment for not meeting their deadline on the job.

The $112,000 project brought electricity to the new exhibit hall and over to the west side of the fairgrounds near Sixth Street.

Action Electric closed its Powell office after problems that included late work at the fairgrounds.
Action Electric was supposed to finish the work by July 1, but didn’t actually complete it until mid-December.

Commissioners had considered keeping the entire $12,260.80 retainage, while Action Electric had suggested it would be fair for the county to keep 25 percent, or $3,065.20.

On a 3-1 vote, commissioners decided to keep 50 percent, or $6,130.40.

“I think all of us want to be done with it; get it behind us,” said Commission Chairman Tim French. “It’s unfortunate it turned out the way it did, but the work was finally done ... to our satisfaction.”

Commissioners said that in retrospect, the county should have done more to speed up the work.

“I think we learned a valuable lesson that, next time we approach a deadline, we send an official letter or whatever saying the deadline is X, and if you don’t meet the deadline, then you will start accumulating a fine,” French said

He added later that, “we said X was going to happen, and we allowed Y and Z to happen” when county staff told Action Electric it could have more time.

“Letting them go that long, some of the burden’s on both of us,” agreed Commissioner Loren Grosskopf, though he added it was “mostly” on the company.

Action Electric owner Max Griffin has said he wasn’t aware there were problems with the fairgrounds job until November, when county staff first called the company’s head office in Billings. (Staff had previously been dealing with the Powell office.)

Griffin immediately dispatched staff from Billings to finish the work. He told commissioners in February that the problems with the fairgrounds project were one reason he closed Action Electric’s office in Powell.

“Letting them go that long, some of the burden’s on both of us,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Commissioner Lee Livingston cast the lone vote against paying the $6,130.40 to the company, saying he wanted to withhold the entire retainage.

Action Electric had narrowly been the low-bidder a year ago and Livingston said there may have been contractors who didn’t bid because of the original July 1 deadline.

“I understand where we’re at — where we probably should have given them earlier notice on the penalty, etc., etc. — but I think it's sending the wrong message out to some of the other contractors,” Livingston said.

Commissioner Joe Tilden said he’d also been leaning toward withholding all the money, but he suggested that Action Electric might actually be entitled to full payment.

“Technically speaking, we’re obligated to pay him (Griffin) all of the retainage, because he did finish the job,” Tilden said, adding, “if he balks at this, we could get in a big political mess and a big legal mess we just don’t need to be bothered with.”

In proposing the 50 percent payment, Grosskopf indicated the county is generally willing to give contractors some leeway.

County getting ‘Cadillac’ parking lot at courthouse

In improving the employee parking lot across from the Park County Courthouse, the county chose what one commissioner calls the “Cadillac option.”

On a 3-2 Tuesday vote, commissioners decided to repave, reshape and expand the lot at an estimated cost of about $134,500.

The project will do three things:

• Replace the existing pavement, which has become uneven and potholed.
• Reshape the bulbous “islands” that divide the existing lot, making it easier to plow.
• Pave a dirt/gravel portion of the lot to add 20 large parking spaces

Commissioners all agreed the dilapidated lot needs to be fixed, but differed on whether to add the extra paved spots.

“I think we should get that done while we’ve got the money,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall. He joined with Commissioners Loren Grosskopf and tiebreaker Tim French in voting for complete reconstruction.

The dirt/gravel part of the employee parking lot (in the foreground) will be turned into pavement.
The county had budgeted $100,000 for the project this year.

Commissioner Joe Tilden wanted to stick closer to that figure, lobbying to leave the gravel portion of the lot as gravel. That option, also favored by Commissioner Lee Livingston, had an estimated cost of around $104,300.

“We’re trying to watch our pennies and pinch pennies whenever we can and ... I don’t want to do a bad job, but I don’t think we need to go overboard,” Tilden said.

He noted that, earlier in the day, the commission had refused to pay an extra $570 in salary for Park County’s new 4-H educator.

“Come on, guys,” Tilden said, calling the full reconstruction the “Cadillac option.”

Grosskopf, however, said the extra cost should be offset by how much easier it will be to plow an entirely paved lot.

Park County will soon reconstruct this employee parking lot, south of the courthouse.
The county’s public works office had offered five different designs for the commissioners’ consideration that ranged from a bare minimum, $82,375 option up to the complete reconstruction. The actual cost of the work will depend on what contractors bid.

Hall had suggested the county start a community garden on the now-gravel part of the lot last year, but a majority of the commission wanted it to become parking.

Apr 19, 2016

Grizzly tracks spotted in Peaks northeast of Cody; Heart Mountain trail closed

After spotting grizzly bear tracks on the west side of the McCullough Peaks, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is asking people to be “bear aware” when recreating in the area.

It's an area, northeast of Cody, where the Game and Fish doesn't expect to see grizzlies.

The McCullough Peaks. File photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management
“This is another indication of a healthy and recovered grizzly population,” Bear Wise Wyoming Coordinator Dusty Lasseter said in a Tuesday news release from the department. “As grizzly bear populations continue to grow and increase in distribution, people should be aware that they may see bears in areas they normally would not expect to see bears.”

Lasseter said it's “imperative” for people to report grizzly bear conflicts and activity — especially when near residential areas — to Game and Fish.

“This is the time year when we typically see increasing black bear and grizzly bear activity at lower elevations in areas surrounding Cody,” Lasseter said. “Outdoor enthusiasts are reminded to be bear aware and take preventative action to avoid conflicts with bears.”

Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy separately announced that bear activity in the area has prompted it to temporarily close the Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve to hiking. Conservancy staff will be monitoring the Heart Mountain trail for signs of bears and reopen it when there seems to be less activity.

The Nature Conservancy made a similar decision last year, closing the trail in mid-April and re-opening it about a month later.

As a general rule, the Game and Fish Department says outdoorsmen should watch for bear tracks, scat and diggings. Hikers, fishermen, antler hunters, or anyone else recreating in areas that could be occupied by bears should take precautions, travel in groups and carry a deterrent like bear spray, the department advises.

“We thank the public for their cooperation and support, and acknowledge the efforts of residents and visitors of Park County toward grizzly bear recovery,” Lasseter said in Tuesday's release.

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