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October 04, 2012 8:01 am

EDITORIAL: Fifth-penny tax would help reduce strain on city budgets

Written by Ilene Olson

Powell residents who live or have business on the south side of town experienced an up-close-and-personal example of the reason some local government leaders in Park County are supporting a fifth-penny sales tax.

A water main break on North Street on Monday afternoon sent water cascading out of a hole in the street over the break, undercutting the pavement and eroding the ground beneath it. The break interrupted water service for some city residents for a short period of time, and the damage it caused means city crews must rebuild the street in that area.

Another water line break occurred Wednesday morning on South Clark Street, requiring futher pipe and street repairs.

These are expensive repairs that will put a strain on the city’s already slimmed-down budget.

Since the 1990s, it has become increasingly difficult for counties and municipalities to build, maintain or replace infrastructure. Park County is one of only three counties in Wyoming that don’t have a fifth-penny tax in place. Voters in the other 20 counties have approved fifth-penny — and in some cases, sixth-penny — taxes, with most, if not all, counties using that money to help pay for infrastructure costs.

That has happened largely since the Wyoming Legislature in the late 1990s capped the amount of mineral income it provides to municipalities and counties through a funding formula. As a result, cities, towns and counties get a smaller share of the mineral income pie. The Legislature has compensated for some of that loss in recent years through direct appropriations to counties for distribution to local governments.

But, with state coffers experiencing a downturn due to decreased natural gas and coal prices, Wyoming lawmakers are looking at budget reductions all around, and it’s likely that cities, towns and counties will receive a reduced amount of supplemental income from the state in the next few years.

Meanwhile, the cost of infrastructure projects has increased steadily.

That being the case, competition for grant money from the State Loan and Investment Board to pay for infrastructure needs, already stiff, will become even more intense. And, when municipal or county leaders stand before the board to explain the need for their projects, one of the first questions they’re asked is, “What are you doing to help yourselves?”

In other words: Are your residents willing to pay their share of the cost for this project through an additional cent of sales tax?

When that answer is no, local government leaders face increasing difficulty in justifying their grant applications.

The combination of all of those factors has resulted in infrastructure repair and replacement projects that have been put on the back burner for years. If they’re not dealt with soon, problems like the one that occurred Monday will be more commonplace.

City and county leaders are leaving it up to voters as to whether needed waterline, street and other infrastructure work should be paid through a 1-cent tax, or if that money should come out of the already strained city budget. Either way, city residents will have to live with that decision and its consequences.


  • Comment Link October 04, 2012 10:01 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Beware those tax & spend RINO's,they love money and this tax will never go away,as they will always find another pork barrel project they want.

  • Comment Link October 04, 2012 11:49 am posted by clipstein

    there would not be a strain if mayor and crew, city manager has spent the money wisely...... of course what paper pushed all the delusions????? I wonder....You made the bed now??????

  • Comment Link October 12, 2012 5:58 am posted by loveourcountry

    Maybe..just maybe if we hadn't had to keep repairing a swimming pool, funding a golf course and of course building a new city dump,etc..etc.. we might still have some cash to do the repairs around this city that actually need done. I say no..not one more cent until you can prove you can spend the money you have wisely. You certainly haven't proven it !!!

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