$24. 8 million paid off over 13 years…the proposed sixth-cent specific use is simply too large.
This newspaper has always prided itself as a progressive paper, proud to operate in a generally progressive community.
We also fully understand that first class, growing communities are those willing to tax themselves for needed projects. Lovell has done so again and again, passing bonds for a new middle school, care center and the town water and sewer infrastructure system over the last 25 years or so.
Those projects, as well as tax support for the senior citizens center, North Big Horn Hospital and tourism efforts over the years have made our community a better place.
We have studied and discussed the various projects that would be funded by the sixth-cent tax, a tax, by the way, that is on the books in 10 other Wyoming counties including our neighbor Washakie County to the south.
When the specific use tax was first proposed for Big Horn County, we initially embraced it, as did many in our county, seeing it as a vehicle to fund some badly needed projects.
Sure, the idea initially came from Greybull to fund operation and maintenance of a proposed new swimming pool, but what a great way, we figured, for Frannie to repair or replace its raw water well, Deaver to rebuild its drinking water transmission and service lines, Cowley to upgrade streets or Byron to repair its rapidly deteriorating sewer system, valuable projects all.
There are some definite needs that can be met by the passage of the sixth-cent sales tax, and in the case of our smallest towns, there are few vehicles for generating the kind of money they need for infrastructure projects.
But the sixth-cent project got too large and in many cases a needs list became a wish list. Given the opportunity to receive a new source of revenue, some towns piled on the projects: a pickup truck in Frannie, park improvements in Byron, a golf cart barn in Lovell. Byron at one time even proposed renovating a swimming pool that rests in a now privately-owned building.
Taxpayers grew skeptical.
In Lovell’s case, the town council considered a number of projects, then added on, feeling that as the largest sales tax generator in the county our community should benefit from the sales tax to a greater degree. It’s an understandable argument, but that’s also how government grows and overspending takes place.
We’ve heard it over and over in our community: “A golf cart barn? Really?”
The idea that may have taken hold was paving the remaining dirt streets in town, but even then some will argue that other folks paid for their streets in town, so why not those with the dirt streets now?
Others will ask: A museum would be great, but is it a need?
A middle school was a need, a care center was a need, new water and sewer lines were a need.
And so we are not opposed to the sixth-cent sales tax, but neither can we support it in its current form. We support the concept but not the bloated nature of the current proposals.
If the sales tax fails, we propose that the towns go carefully and thoughtfully back to the drawing board, pare down their requests and return to the voters in two years with true community needs, not a wish list. Cowley and Deaver’s proposals might not change, but Frannie could eliminate the pickup (a minor amount of money, mind you), and Byron could focus on the sewer system.
Lovell could focus on the museum or look to other needs like the extension of utilities to areas of potential growth or Main Street enhancements. It’s too bad the rules will not allow Lovell to pay down its water and sewer bonds.
In two years we’ll know if Park County passed its own fifth-cent infrastructure sales tax, thus reducing the sales tax disparity between neighboring counties, and we’ll know whether taxes in general are falling under a Romney Administration or whether taxes are continuing to increase under a second-term Obama presidency. We’ll know whether our economy is looking up or is still in the doldrums.
Big Horn County doesn’t generate a lot of sales tax – about $160,000 per month for a single cent of sales tax. It will take 13 years to pay off the $24.8 million in projects currently proposed. Conversely, Natrona County proposes to pay off a $29.7 million special purpose tax in about 18 months.
Thirteen years is simply too long for a specific use sales tax, and we cannot support it, though we respect those who believe it’s in our communities’ best interest.
As communities, let’s continue to put our heads together and come up with about half the total amount of projects, then put them on the ballot in 2014.
The current specific use sales tax effort was rushed and not always thoughtfully considered. Let’s go back to the drawing board and come up with some true needs for 2014, the best of the best projects. Then we can all support the specific use sales tax.