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Let cities tax themselves, say municipal chiefs

Oct 9, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Leaders of local municipalities during recent government meetings have voiced an interest in legislation that would allow Wyoming communities to tax themselves.

Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness mentioned the idea at a meeting of the Fremont County Association of Governments, asking state legislators how they would respond to the proposal.

"I'm interested in ... how you feel about municipalities being able to tax themselves rather than having to go through the process of having the entire county on board," Warpness asked at the meeting Thursday. "The way it is now ... it's a challenge."

Currently, optional sales tax initiatives must be approved by counties, not municipalities. So if Lander needs money to buy a new ladder truck for its fire department, for example, that city's leaders have to work with other municipalities to encourage residents to approve a tax increase countywide.

"If Lander could say, 'We need a new ladder truck, and we're willing to pay the extra penny,' they could fix it themselves," Warpness said. "Now their hands are tied, and they have to get everyone on board."

He added that the Wyoming Association of Municipalities has approved the idea, which other county leaders and State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, also supported.

"It should be a bill," Bebout said. "I hope someone in the (Wyoming House of Representatives) would put that bill forward. ... We've had that debate for years, and it sure needs to be discussed."

He added that larger and more wealthy cities and towns are "not enthused" about the idea, as they are comfortable with the current funding model.

State Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, agreed, anticipating resistance to any proposals that would allow cities and towns to tax themselves.

"It's a great idea, (and) it's worth running a piece of legislation at," Goggles said. "But when you get down to Cheyenne and start that debate, you find out the reasons and the history of why it is the way it is right now."

Most counties have just one large population center, such as Casper in Natrona County or Cheyenne in Laramie County, so taxation issues valued by voters in that population center are dominant countywide.

Goggles advised Warpness to develop a strong base of statewide support in order to give a potential local tax bill a chance.

"We seem to be outvoted by the larger counties," Goggles said. "They pretty much influence a lot of that vote. It's a battle, no question."

Warpness asked Goggles to "pick up the battle" when the Legislature meets again in January, and Goggles said he has always advocated for local control.

"Who best to know what your needs are than you?" Goggles asked the mayors and county commissioners at the meeting. "You know the dynamics, and you know your needs."

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