LINGLE, Wyo. — As times change, small-town America often finds itself working to keep up.
Things are no different in Lingle, Wyoming, where the town’s leadership works to do what it sees as best for the 463 residents. The Lingle Community Center will have it’s grand opening Thursday, and Mayor George Siglin said that’s been the big project for the town over the past year or so.
As businesses have gone away, Lingle has found itself as more of a bedroom community than a business community. Siglin recalls in days gone by there was a dentist in town as well as a movie theater, pool parlor and hardware store.
“As time goes on, the smaller towns can’t compete with the bigger ones,” Siglin said.
A state grant helped the Lingle-Fort Laramie school district build a new elementary school a few years back, and Siglin said the school system is a highlight of the town.
The original town of Wyncote was located a few miles west of current-day Lingle. When the railroad went through, the town moved to be closer to the rails and a few years later the name was changed to Lingle in honor of Hiram Dodge Lingle, who was instrumental in the location of the railroad and the relocation of the town. Incorporated in 1918, Lingle is no longer home to many businesses, and Siglin says the town is simply trying to keep an even keel.
“Keeping us alive,” is Siglin’s response when asked the biggest challenge in small communities. “I don’t think people realize it, but all towns — I don’t care if you’re here or in the city — I’m going to use a block of asphalt paving for an example. If you go to Cheyenne or Casper, it costs X amount of dollars to do one block. You come to Lingle and do one block, it’s the same thing. But we do not have a tax base to do that. People don’t realize that. Our water system takes a lot of maintenance, a lot of upkeep. Sewer is the same way. Maintenance costs money. You’ve got to keep up with it. If you don’t, it goes pfft, downhill.”
Over the years, especially starting in the 2000s three quarters of the town’s sewer system has been redone. The remaining quarter on the west side of town, Siglin said, will be expensive because the system runs under U.S. Highway 26 and under the railroad tracks. Most of the town’s supply water lines have been replaced over the last 20 years, replacing old galvanized pipe that has been around since the town’s early days.
Siglin, retired from UPS, and in his third term as mayor — the first from 2002-2006 and now in his second term after being elected in 2014 — said he credits town councils from before his terms and the councils he has served with for having vision to stay ahead of projects.
“This is your councils who make the decisions for what you have to do,” Siglin said. “Fortunately, the ones who were here before I was here, the ones I’ve been lucky to sit on with, the ones in between, have seen the need to keep doing this.”
Through his seat on the Goshen County Economic Development Board, Siglin said he sees the struggle to try to find businesses to locate not just in Lingle, but in all five incorporated towns in the county.
“We talk about how you bring business to Goshen County,” Siglin said. “It’s hard to find entrepreneurs anymore. You have to find someone who’s willing to work and take a risk. Go find those people. It’s hard.”
While some larger communities are struggling with sales taxes going away due to Internet retail, Siglin said those sales can actually be a benefit to keeping the smaller towns alive.
“We are better off here, if we can’t find it, instead of going over there (to Torrington or Scottsbluff) and buying it, you order it online and have it delivered,” Siglin said. “The reason is that now that there is the tax on online sales, that stays in town.”
Over the years, Siglin said the ag-based economy in Goshen County has been beneficial in avoiding the booms and busts that some other counties nearby may experience through reliance on oil revenues and keeping Lingle on that even keel.
“We’re just trying to maintain,” Siglin said, drawing out the word to more of a “maintain.”