In his eight years on the board, Park County commissioner Joe Tilden has helped balance the county’s budget through lean times, overseen repairs to three major bridges and lobbied for sportsmen’s rights and access.
It’s a tenure he describes as one that’s woken him up in the middle of the night many times as anxieties over the budgetary squeeze, negotiations with federal agencies, and the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative swirled in his head.
But he thinks he’s the right man for the job, and in 2019 he hopes to be back at it for another four years.
“I’m willing to compromise in order to get problems solved,” Tilden said, adding that sort of deal-making, rather than “stone-walling” is the key to a successful democracy.
“We, as a board, don’t always agree and that’s how it should be – you have to have open, honest debate,” he said. But he said he has respect for his fellow commissioners, and that’s made all the difference on the board.
On the five-person commission, Tilden said, “We need a lot of experience dealing with federal land issues.”
Eighty-five percent of the county is federally managed acreage, he said, and as a onetime guide and a former liaison to the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, Tilden said he knows the ins-and-outs of complex regulatory processes used by those agencies.
During his tenure, Tilden said, “the state and Park County have been in severe budgetary times.”
Over the last three years, the county’s assessed valuation has dropped by 20 percent, and Tilden said that made balancing the books a challenge, but one that he’s proud to have overcome.
“When you have a 20 percent cut in your budget and you’re still able to balance your budget and keep your people working and maintain the infrastructure of Park County – that’s a real plus,” Tilden said.
Despite the fiscal concerns, Tilden said his term has overseen some significant accomplishments.
Close to his heart are ongoing campaigns to de-list wolves and grizzly bears, and he’s also looking forward to this summer’s expected opening of a fee-free area he championed in Buffalo Bill State Park.
He’s also proud of the new county annex in Powell, bridges on the North and South Forks and the Willwood Dam, and chip-sealing work done by the County Road and Bridge Department.
“Park County has more chip-seal-paved roads than any other county in the state,” Tilden said.
But he hardly takes all the credit for that: Tilden tipped his cap to county engineer Brian Edwards particularly, and to county employees in general.
“The elected officials and staff we have in the court house are marvelous, marvelous people,” Tilden said.
With the assessed valuation heading northward, Tilden said one of his priorities will be raising wages for staff, whose compensation has started to lag behind other county workers in the state.
“I’ve been a private business owner, but I’ve also been an employee,” Tilden said. “I’ve seen all sides of it.”