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March 18, 2010 3:53 am

Powell postpones West Park tax decision

Written by Tribune Staff

Council to decide on West Park, landfill April 5

In the tale of two 1-cent taxes that's taking shape in Park County, the Powell City Council added another chapter Monday night. Councilmen voted unanimously to table a decision on West Park Hospital's sales tax ballot measure. They also agreed unanimously to draft a resolution for the landfill's 1-cent sales tax ballot measure.

The temporary, additional 1-cent tax “is a very powerful tool that we have here in Park County,” said Mayor Scott Mangold. Park County is one of the few in Wyoming without a fifth-penny tax, he noted.

How that tool is wielded in Park County in 2010 remains to be seen. Whether voters will consider the sales tax for one project, both or neither is in the hands of municipal and county leaders.

During the first tax discussion between Powell and West Park leaders Monday, hospital representatives outlined a proposed $26.2 million modernization and emergency room expansion project.

“Is this necessary? It is critically necessary,” said Dr. Kirk Bollinger, a West Park emergency room physician.
West Park trustees and staff sought the council's support for a $14.2 million tax proposal to help pay for the expansion, which would help the hospital comply with federal regulations, provide privacy for patients and update the aging facility.

“We're asking you to take action,” said Doug McMillan, CEO of West Park.

Powell wasn't quite ready. While some councilmen voiced their support for the hospital's project and said they understand its necessity, they hesitated to pass a resolution that hasn't been approved in Cody. The Cody City Council first considered the project in January and has yet to decide. Meeteetse councilmen approved the measure last week.

“I'd feel much more comfortable if Cody said yes. I'd rather them have first whack at it,” said Councilman John Wetzel.

For the measure to go before voters, two municipalities and the Park County Commission must approve it.

“I'd like to see the Powell council say, ‘This is a good idea,' and take it to voters,” said Melissa Fraser, a West Park trustee.

She said that the sooner it clears the city councils, the sooner they can begin educating voters about the project.

She reminded the council that Cody voters supported the sales tax for Powell's pool project. Fraser added that in the future, Powell Valley Hospital will need renovations.

“As our hospital board doesn't support it at this time, I'm reticent to vote on it when Cody hasn't,” said Councilman Josh Shorb.

Shorb made a motion to table the resolution until April 5, the council's next meeting.

“This has to be started very soon,” Mangold told the council. “Let's talk to constituents and come up with a solid decision.”

Emphasizing the time crunch to Powell councilmen, Mangold told West Park leaders, “you do deserve an answer by April 5.”

The Cody council may not take action on the resolution until its April 6 meeting, McMillan said.

Another concern for Powell councilmen is the legality of two 1-cent sales tax measures on the ballot in one election cycle.

West Park officials hope to secure a place on the primary ballot in August. Councilman Shorb said the landfill group hopes to have an estimated $18 million proposal on the general ballot in November.

For months, Mayor Mangold and Powell councilmen have voiced their support for a 1-cent sales tax to pay for changes to the Park County landfill system.

Fraser said that tax proposal isn't certain, adding some commissioners “aren't even sure they want the landfill project on the ballot.”

Councilman Jim Hillberry said voters may not support two taxes, adding that Powell residents he has talked to favor the landfill tax over one for West Park.

Hillberry added that some constituents are “very concerned” about the possibility of having the West Park and landfill taxes both on 2010 ballots.

Councilman Wetzel said that while he didn't initially support the project, he does understand its value after West Park's presentation. But he asked how two 1-cent special-purpose sales taxes would share the revenue stream if voters approve both hospital and landfill taxes.

“How, as a city council, can we merge this need with the landfill need?” Wetzel asked.

West Park Trustee Alan Swenson said they hope to have those answers very soon to decide the best legal way to proceed.

With lingering legal and logistical questions, the Powell City Council voted to move forward with drafting a resolution for the $18 million tax to pay for changes to the Park County landfill system.

Shorb said he'd like to “get the legal wheels rolling. I'd like to act on this April 5.”