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County to set up citizen committee on uses for 1 percent tax

Feb 7, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County is establishing a committee of citizens to advise on the spending of optional 1 percent tax revenue.

The Fremont County Commission on Feb. 5 authorized the transportation department to develop a public input group and call for interested parties.

Several guidelines for the committee enjoyed wide support from the group. The committee left other details up to Fremont County's transportation department and its superintendent Dave Pendleton.

Residents approved an optional additional 1 percent sales tax in November's election. Collection of the tax will begin April 1, and revenue from it will go to the county and municipalities for infrastructure projects.

Pendleton and commissioners agreed that large committees have difficulty reaching consensus, and the 1 percent tax group would work best if it were limited to roughly seven people.

The commission directed Pendleton to solicit interested residents for the committee and make selections. Pendleton said interested parties should call the transportation department at 332-1039.

City-rural balance

Commissioners suggested Pendleton balance the committee with people who live in municipalities with those who do not.

"Everybody that's in the limits of Fremont County is a Fremont County citizen, as long as they're the best qualified, whether they're in a city, on the reservation (or anywhere else)," vice chairman Travis Becker said.

Chairman Doug Thompson emphasized that including rural residents is important.

"They'll have a better idea of the roads we're talking about," he said. "We don't have jurisdiction over roads in municipalities."

The commission seemed to support having a geographically diverse committee.

"I'd just as soon select individuals who could represent the various areas of the county," Thompson said.

Evaluative process

After discussion between the commission and Pendleton, a rough outline of the 1 percent committee's process emerged.

Pendleton and the committee would discuss the list of criteria, such as safety and convenience, the transportation department uses to evaluate potential infrastructure projects. The citizens' group would rank the criteria.

Then, the group would use their criteria to evaluate a list of countywide infrastructure projects.

Commissioners said it would be better to develop criteria and not start by discussing specific projects.

"You have to decide how are we going to do this, and then look at the roads," Thompson said. "If you have your criteria set out, then you've got your yard stick."

"I like the idea of approaching this by the criteria, because that's where I think the public input is," commissioner Stephanie Kessler said. "Once people understand all of the criteria you go through in your work, they might drop some of their pet projects."

Commissioner Keja Whiteman said a lot of education would be necessary about how infrastructure work is funded and where the county has jurisdiction before people could make smart decisions about something like a specific road repair.

Pendleton first suggested that his department have public meetings in about seven areas to gather input, but the commission thought such a project would be burdensome.

"I'm worried about making this too onerous for you," Kessler said.

"That's a pretty big work load to go to seven to eight areas of the county and have a public committee," Thompson said.

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