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Here comes the tax

Mar 28, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The extra penny per dollar kicks in April 1 -- no fooling

After more than a year consumed by considering, educating, lobbying, campaigning, voting, planning and waiting, the optional 1 percent sales tax is about to start.

April 1 is the day we'll all begin paying an extra 1 percent on most of our retail purchases in Fremont County.

A voter majority approved the plan in November. The tax won't affect the statewide ban on sales tax for groceries, but just about everything else will see the extra penny per dollar tax.

Now comes the all-important matter of how the "new" money will be used. Part of that question was answered even before we voted on the tax; funds can be used for local government infrastructure only. That means no new rec centers, softball fields, police cars, or sculptures at city hall. Streets, alleys, curbs, gutters, sewer lines and water mains are more like it.

In Riverton, the planning emphasis has been on road construction, maintenance and improvement. Other municipalities in our county, along with the county government itself, might identify different priorities under the general "infrastructure" mandate of the tax.

Its implementation coincides with the beginning of the main tourist season in Wyoming. As a drive-through/stop-through point on a primary motor route to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Fremont County stands to see some added benefit from out-of-state travelers who stop at a restaurant, a store, a campground or a motel on their way to the big destinations. The initial pop from the tax is likely to be strong.

Different local government entities are taking different approaches to the expected influx of revenue. It won't flow to us in spectacular amounts, but it will be big enough that we'll all benefit from some advance planning. Riverton has formed an advisory committee on using the funds. Fremont County is doing the same, and Lander, Dubois, Shoshoni, Hudson and Pavillion have their own strategies for allocating the money as it comes in.

These paths are not identical, but they are similar in one very important way -- asking the public to get involved and stay involved in setting the direction the spending will take. Key to a successful use of the money will be the willingness of office holders, department heads, contractors and voters to keep their eyes, ears and, most importantly, their minds open.

News flash: There will be some disagreements over what to do with the tax money -- if not immediately, then eventually. But so long as the process is done fairly, collaboratively and openly, the grumbling will be confined to preference rather than principle.

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