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Towns set stage for campaign to pass added 1 percent tax

Towns set stage for campaign to pass added 1 percent tax

Apr 20, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Municipal leaders in Fremont County are planning to generate voter support for the optional 1 percent sales tax by creating campaigning teams to disseminate information.

During the Fremont County Association of Governments meeting April 12 in Riverton, leaders discussed the proposed sales tax that would raise money for streets, water and sewer infrastructure repairs.

Municipalities in the county are approving new resolutions that state their support and committed use of the tax funds. The county commission has approved placing the proposal on the general election ballot this November.

Last month, commissioners approved a resolution stating the extra sales tax would raise funds for the county, along with its six municipalities, for "streets, roads, bridges, water and sewer utilities."

Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness and Lander Mayor Mick Wolfe are serving as co-chairman of a committee aimed at promoting the sales tax in the county.

"Basically, it's that each of the municipalities will have the responsibility to work with its citizens to use the information generated by Riverton and Lander," Warpness said.

"I think if we can get that information out and everybody on board in the communities, it will go," he said.

A political action committee will promote the tax issue, Warpness said, adding that "several contractors" are planning to help raise funds for the campaign.

The proposal involves a four-year, 1 percent sales tax that voters would later get to decide whether or not to continue it every four years.

If approved by voters, the extra 1 percent would raise the county's total sales tax to 5 percent for most purchases except groceries and other items, such as farm equipment, that are tax-exempt.

"There's a lot of information that we need to get out there," Warpness said.

The extra tax revenue would generate about $7 million annually for the municipal and county governments. The county's share at half would amount to about $3.5 million, while the City of Riverton could receive about $1.7 million annually.

Warpness said plans include dividing Riverton into 20 to 25 sections each with team captains who would organize support and provide information to voters.

"I think the more ownership we can get from people in the community, the better we will be," he said.

Elected leaders continue to have concerns about voter acceptance of the proposal. This proposal differs from previous ballot tax questions, which had specific projects, costs and termination dates.

"I've had a lot of people that are positive about it," said Pavillion Mayor Gary Hamlin. "They just don't think we'll stick to our guns about it."

Warpness emphasized the declared use of the tax money.

"It's only going to be used for streets, water lines and sewers," he said.

Dave Knopke, an engineer from Riverton who attended the meeting, said he has spoken with people in the community who are worried about the length of the tax.

"People are scared that once the tax gets put into place, it's going to be a perpetual tax," Knopke said.

"The good thing about this tax is it's self-imposed," Hamlin said. Voters will have the opportunity to determine whether to impose the tax and continue it at a later time.

Warpness said voters need to realize that four years is a short time to accomplish the construction and repairs needed in communities and areas throughout the county.

Those working in government know "that four years is not going to solve the problems," he said.

The optional tax would bring more money into the area, Warpness said, citing the current sales tax returning 30 cents of every dollar sent to Cheyenne.

"With this 1 percent optional, we'll send a dollar down there and they'll send back 99 cents," he said.

As of the March 30 monthly tax collection report issued by the Wyoming Department of Revenue, Fremont County joined Park and Sublette counties as the only ones in the state lacking the optional general purpose sales tax.

"We're not doing this because we want the money," Hamlin said. "We're doing this to do projects. ... The bottom line is we want to fix things."

For those who vote against the tax, "don't complain about the streets," Warpness said.

How the tax revenue would apply to communities on the Wind River Indian Reservation, where voters will be able to voice their opinion at the polls, is another question.

"Why would they get it? They're not collecting sales tax out there," commissioner Travis Becker said.

"I guess what I'm thinking about is they're voters, and they can vote it up or down," Warpness replied.

Becker noted that county projects benefit the reservation which includes a partnership with work on 17 Mile Road. A comprehensive list of road and bridge projects in the county's jurisdiction totaled $72 million, he said.

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