The mayors of eight of the nine incorporated towns in Big Horn County are reviewing their plan for the sixth-cent sales tax and are preparing another question for the voters.
At the Jan. 24 mayors meeting at the Basin City Arts Center, the group of mayors and clerks, with Byron unrepresented, addressed the failed sixth-cent sales tax from the November general election.
The sixth-cent sales tax question may come back but with some changes.
“We got beat up pretty bad so I’m just throwing this out … now’s the time to start if we’re interested in doing this again,” said Lovell Mayor Bruce Morrison. “I don’t think we can wait.”
The mayors discussed cutting the amount in half, finding additional money to match the tax money and re-evaluating each project and deciding if it was worth it.
The mayors agreed that if the projects were right that they would have greater support from the people.
Two of the recurring complaints they all heard about the tax was “when would it stop?” and “why should I help a town I don’t live in?” For example, do Lovell people care about a swimming pool in Greybull? Do Basin residents care about streets in Burlington?
Another concern was how to get support from the unincorporated areas in the county … Hyattville, Shell, Otto and Emblem and one suggestion was to have the county commissioners go into these communities and find out what projects in each could benefit from the sixth-cent sales tax.
Burlington town clerk Penny Jones expressed concern for the smaller communities. “We don’t have a large business pool or resident base to draw from.”
Manderson Mayor Randy Brown echoed Jones’ concerns. “Our revenues are not high enough.”
Cowley Mayor Joel Peterson said, “If we could take our projects and we could find an expert at finding money and give them the projects for the county and say where are we going to find some money, once we have that aspect we could go back to the people in the community and say we’ve done our part. Now how bad do you want these things done.”
Basin Mayor Amy Kania said that “when we first sat down originally, no one really wanted to say we needed to set a limit. I think it is important that our dollar amount is obtainable.”
Peterson agreed, saying, “Everyone said this thing will never be paid off.”
Greybull Mayor Bob Graham said that he, too, heard concerns about this. “We said this tax has a life. Once it is paid off it will die. We cited state statutes. We gave it to the people. I don’t know how we can change that perception.”
Kania told of recently being in a business in Greybull where the man next to her at the counter (not knowing she was a mayor that promoted the tax) was commenting to the sales clerk “we need to find a way to capture the revenue from all the hunters that come through.” This got a laugh.
Graham said that most people seemed not to understand how many things were exempt from this tax and who is really paying the bill for the tax and what is exempt like “groceries, pharmaceuticals and gasoline. Sixty percent of the tax would be paid by transit people moving through this community.”
There was some discussion about working harder at getting the county commissioners involved and supportive.
Jones said one of the frustrating parts is holding public meetings and no one shows up. “We can do our part finding extra funding and help, but it stills comes back to the public voting and understanding,” she said.
Kania suggested having a presence at community events to help educate and inform people. “We need to talk about it at every public council meeting and the newspaper is there. People will read about our project so when the time comes they will say, ‘Oh yeah, I know about this project.’”
The mayors agreed to work on their individual projects by asking themselves and their community whether the projects are “really worth it.” They also said they need to get the town councils, commissioners and community on board and explore additional funding options. They set a target date of June.
Mayor Kania had opened the meeting by inviting the mayors to come to the Big Horn County Solid Waste Board’s work meeting next month in Lovell. The mayors and/or representatives from the towns may want to be involved in that meeting as the board discusses solid waste baling and transfer stations.
“This is our opportunity. We have officially been invited. I would encourage mayors or council members to represent your community at this meeting,” she said.
The next mayor meeting will be at 6 p.m., April 25, in Lovell.
By BARBARA ANNE GREENE