County joins federal lawsuit, examines Bank of the West

EVANSTON — During the Tuesday, Sept. 4, work session, the Uinta County Commission discussed the possibility of severing ties with Bank of the West and the county signing on to a lawsuit against the federal government for owed PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) funds.

Uinta County Treasurer Terry Brimhall and Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson spoke with the commissioners about the possibility of severing ties with Bank of the West following a recent announcement that Bank of the West would no longer support energy projects, such as coal, oil and gas, that were not actively involved in a transition to green energy sources.

Brimhall said several other Wyoming counties had severed relationships with the bank following the announcement. While Uinta County does not have long-term investments with Bank of the West, she said credit cards, payroll and accounts payable do go through that bank. 

Employees with the Evanston Bank of the West branch are reportedly “quite adamant” that if an energy company is even working on green energy the institution will still work with them, but Brimhall said the statement issued by Bank of the West makes it “pretty clear” they are not going to work with companies not involved with clean energy. Howieson said Bank of the West is “essentially saying they will provide no funding, loans or promotion if companies are not involved with clean energy.” 

Brimhall said in Uinta County, coal, oil and gas account for approximately 37 percent of the tax roll. Commission chair Eric South said he feels that’s an underestimate because those industries account for a big percentage of other business and tax collections as well.

“My recommendation is that we pull out as well,” South said. “I’m pretty adamant about that. We need to send that message.” Commissioner Wendell Fraughton agreed. 

Commissioner Craig Welling said he agrees philosophically, but added, “We have five financial institutions. It’s important to consider the ramifications of a financial institution leaving the county.” 

Brimhall said any decision to stop banking with Bank of the West would take time to implement, at least until the end of the year. The commissioners asked that Brimhall and county clerk Amanda Hutchinson be in contact with other local banks to see if the same services provided by Bank of the West can be obtained elsewhere. 

Howieson and Brimhall also spoke with the commissioners about a nationwide lawsuit against the federal government regarding unpaid PILT funds, which are funds paid to states for federal lands that do not add property taxes to a state’s coffers. Howieson said the payments had been approved by the U.S. Congress, but had then been underfunded in appropriations from 2015-2017. 

Howieson said Uinta County is entitled to approximately $50,000.

“Literally every state in the nation is participating,” Howieson said, “and 17 of 23 Wyoming counties have already signed on.” 

Although Welling expressed some concern about “slapping the hand that feeds you,” Howieson said, “I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t participate.”

South said the county’s participation sends a message, and Uinta County has signed on to the lawsuit.


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