Local Government Leaders Outline the Needs for the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax
The optional one-cent sales tax, which is up for renewal in the general election on Tuesday, helps fund public safety, roads, parks and even the payroll in the smallest town in Natrona County, local government leaders said Thursday.
Representatives of Casper, Midwest, Edgerton, Evansville and Natrona County outlined what the one-cent, sometimes called the fifth-penny tax, does for all residents at a news conference at the Fire Station No. 6 in Paradise Valley.
Evansville town council member Jennifer Sorenson said the town received about $680,000 last year from the current optional one-cent funding, and leveraged that to obtain money for projects.
"We used it to help match our sidewalk funding project we did in Evansville," Sorenson said. "We got a grant for that and we used it to help with the emergency water connection project that we did to get our water tied into Casper's, and we used a lot for road repair."
Casper Mayor Ray Pacheco said the city will use the estimated $58 million it expects to receive over the four-year life of the renewed optional sales tax for police, fire, streets and roads.
Pacheco later said he's heard criticisms of the optional one-cent sales tax that assert it has drifted far from its original intent of basic capital needs.
He acknowledge that criticism, but responded that the tax hasn't broken from its original intent in the 1970s so much as it has evolved.
"The evolution of it, I believe, has been responsibly done in the nature of what has been needed in the community with the highlight of it still being infrastructure, police, fire," Pacheco said.
Casper allocates the revenues to infrastructure, but not for general fund expenses such as payroll, he said.
The situation in Edgerton, 40 miles north of Casper, is much different, because the evolution from what was mostly capital projects has kept it afloat.
Edgerton Mayor Buck King said his town uses its one-cent sales tax revenues to fund up to 20 percent of its budget.
The downturn in the energy economy has resulted in job and revenue losses, and the town is down to two employees -- a clerk and a maintenance man, King said.
Without the optional one-cent sales tax, Edgerton would have a $163,000 budget deficit over five years and would be forced to tap its savings to meet its basic obligations, he said before making his final pitch.
"Come to your voting place on Tuesday for one percent tax," King said.
"This is the only tax you can decide on having," he said. "The state does not give it to you, and the state cannot take it away once you put it in there. So do something for yourself: Vote for the one-cent."
Wyoming mandates a 4 percent sales tax, and counties have the option to add up to two more cents.
Natrona County voters approved the first extra 1-cent sales tax, sometimes referred to as the "fifth cent," in the early 1970s and have renewed it ever since. Voters renewed it -- Optional One-Cent Sales Tax No. 15 -- by 71 percent in 2014.
The revenues are distributed based on population to Casper, the other municipalities and the unincorporated areas of Natrona County.