This letter is intended to add clarification to the ongoing discussion about the current use of the 1 percent optional sales tax and the possibly of expanding/changing the use of the tax funds in the future. Ron Warpness urged us to use caution when discussing expansion of the use of the tax. Then Graig Inger disagreed and asked why the use for the tax funding couldn't be expanded if voters wanted to.
The answer lies in state statutes. When a General Use Optional Sale Tax is passed by the voters the first time, it automatically goes onto the ballot every four years, and the verbiage of the ballot initiative has to remain the same.
Because of this, the specific use/resolution/verbiage of the tax ballot initiative is locked in. Julie Freese (the Fremont County Clerk) confirmed this prior to this last election when this issue came up with respect to ambulance service.
The current ballot question will always have the following verbiage: "...the purpose of which is for infrastructure projects related to streets, roads, bridges, water and sewer utilities."
The only way to change or expand the use of the tax is for Voters to vote down the current ballot initiative relating to infrastructure improvement, and vote in a new General Use, Specific Purpose, or Economic Development
Optional Sales Tax with revised verbiage (which is not an ideal option considering the deteriorating state of our infrastructure).
Additionally, the only way to give voters the ability to vote on a new ballot initiative is to first get it onto the ballot.
This in itself is not easy. It can only be done by one of two ways. The first is to get at least 5 percent of electors in the county to sign a petition supporting a resolution approving the proposition (using the numbers from the last general election the number of electors' signatures needed for such a petition is around 862). The second is to get two-thirds of the governing bodies of the incorporated municipalities with in the county to approve a supporting a resolution.
Both of these procedures can be difficult to navigate and get a supporting resolution approved to be on the ballot. To top that off, the resolution then has to be approved by the voter's county wide. This is why Ron Warpness has been urging caution about current tax.
Voters can always approve an additional percent general purpose sales tax with an expanded use or a specific use sales tax with a funding sunset that ends once the required funding amount is raised.
Either option would ensure that the current optional general use sales tax for infrastructure is not "ruined" and would help our county make some of the other improvements to our communities' that the electors in Fremont County would like to see.
Granted, a sixth percent may be a tall order in a county that historically has maintained the mantra of "No New Taxes." However, now that the power of the penny has been demonstrated by completing much needed improvements to our infrastructure, the possibility of an additional 6th percent general use or specific purpose sales tax maybe not as far out of reach as it has been in the past.