Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Nov. 12

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on a masterplan for Teton County schools, a new mayor-elect in Driggs and the infrastructure bill’s impact on Wyoming.
Bronc Achievement Center rendering
An indoor rendering of the proposed Bronc Achievement Center is included in the Teton County School District’s new masterplan, which was presented to the public this week. (Courtesy of Teton County School District No. 1)

New COVID-19 Rapid Testing Site Opens in Jackson

A new free COVID-19 rapid testing site opened in Jackson Monday. The site is located in the former KMart and future Target plaza at 520 S. Highway 89 in Suites I&J.

Blake Lackey is senior director of operations for Curative, the company operating the site in partnership with the Teton County and Wyoming departments of health. He said the Jackson location is one of Curative’s first rapid testing sites in the country.

“Ultimately, I would love to be out of a job here in the next two months but unfortunately just [with] what we’re seeing it’s not gonna happen yet,” Lackey said. “So, the best thing we can do to provide support to individuals, stakeholders in the community is to provide information, which is what we do.”

The Teton County Health Department is encouraging anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who was in close contact with someone who tested positive to take advantage of the new site, where results will be ready within one hour. Appointments can be made online at curative.com. The company is also now offering mail-in tests at two kiosks located at the Teton County Library and the Home Ranch Welcome Center. Results for those tests will be available within 24-48 hours.

Federal Bill Set to Invest in Wyoming Infrastructure

The federal bipartisan infrastructure bill has reached President Joe Biden’s desk without Wyoming’s support. The $1.2 trillion dollar spending package passed the House of Representatives last Friday, Nov. 5, after months of debate, and Biden celebrated in a speech Saturday, calling the bill a monumental step forward for the nation.

“[This bill is] a once in a generation investment that’s going to create millions of jobs, modernize our infrastructure — our roads, our bridges, our broadband,” Biden said. “And it puts us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st century.”

Neither Cowboy State senator voted in support of the bill, nor did Rep. Liz Cheney, but the infrastructure package is still likely to have a profound impact on Wyoming. At least $1.8 billion is expected to get invested in roads, as well as another $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs, according to the White House’s state report for Wyoming.  Investments in airports, water infrastructure and wildfire mitigation are also expected to offer new employment opportunities to state residents, and an additional 48,000 Wyomingites are projected to gain access to broadband internet. 

Sen. John Barrasso appeared on FoxNews Monday to discuss why he still opposes the spending package. “I voted ‘no’ for a couple of reasons. One is I believe it’s going to add hundreds of billions of dollars of debt to the deficit,” Barrasso said. “And there were energy parts of that bill that I think are going to make energy more expensive and at the same time make our grid less reliable.” 

Barrasso also expressed concern over the budget reconciliation bill still being debated by Democratic lawmakers, which would allocate spending for social programs, including universal pre-K, enhanced childcare and measures to combat climate change, among other things.

Driggs Elects New Mayor for Next Term

Following local elections last week, the City of Driggs will be swearing in a new mayor in early January 2022. Mayor Hyrum Johnson, who has led the Teton Valley community for the last eight years, will be replaced by the current Driggs City Council President August Christensen.

KHOL spoke to both Johnson and Christensen about their visions for Driggs. Meanwhile, the results of two other local elections in Teton Valley remain uncertain. Recounts have been requested in two close races for the Driggs City Council and Teton County school board, according to the Teton Valley News. That’s after the initial results the county released on Election Night failed to include absentee ballots, which changed the outcome of two races. At least four voters were also issued incorrect ballots, though the county says they only impacted one school board race and were not enough to change the result.

Master Planning for Teton County Schools Underway

The Teton County School District presented a master plan to the community during a public information session Wednesday night. According to school board Chairman Keith Gingery, the plan is essentially a list of needs the local public education system has, and he’s looking for feedback in terms of what parents, teachers and staff want — even if it’s more of a long-term investment. 

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re approaching our limited land availability in a strategic way,” Gingery told KHOL ahead of the meeting. “Education is number one. So, which pieces of land do we need to make sure that we are maintaining for future schools or future school expansion?”

Other priorities outlined in the plan include upgraded security, labs for engineering and bigger athletics facilities. But a pressing near-term goal, Gingery said, has to be finding places for more staff to live.

“We think we can move on [housing] pretty quickly because we have the most important asset: The land,” Gingery said. “We simply need to find the funds to build, which is a lot easier than finding the funds to buy land.”

Gingery also said he plans to exhaust all possible resources, including state funding, private donations, school board reserves or even local ballot initiatives, to raise the money needed to get the project done. However, the school board is seeking more public input as it continues to work on the plan.

Emergency Rental Assistance Still Available

Federal rental assistance is still available for Wyoming residents struggling to make ends meet as a result of economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cowboy State has received $352 million in federal funding to help with emergency rental assistance but only dolled out $10.5 million dollars thus far, including just $189,000 in Teton County. Emergency rental assistance can help pay landlords, utility companies or internet providers for any unpaid bills dated later than March 13, 2020. The funds can also help cover future rent, legal services or disability assistance. 

More information is available at dfs.wyo.gov/erap or 1-877-996-3727.

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