The defeat was sweeping — the tax failed in 24 of the county’s 29 precincts.
“I thought it was great,” said Park County Commission Chairman Tim French, who was the leading voice of opposition to the tax. “I mean, the people overwhelmingly decided, they got enough taxes to deal with. It’s just in this economy I think they felt enough’s enough. Because what I was hearing from people is they’re just tapped out.”
“Voters get to decide, and they have,” said Shawn Warner, who was part of a committee that promoted the tax leading up to the election. “We respect and accept the voters’ decision.”
Another supporter of the tax, Commissioner Loren Grosskopf, said the wide margin of defeat surprised him. He took the results as meaning that voters understand the budget crunch local governments are in and want them to cut spending instead of raising revenue.
Without the tax revenue, Powell Mayor Scott Mangold said city and county leaders have tough decisions ahead. Grosskpof echoed that.
“The county will provide services tomorrow. It isn’t going to be the end of the world, but it will force us to change our way we do business,” he said. He hopes essentials won’t have be disturbed.
Faced with the prospect of fewer state and federal dollars against higher costs, local government leaders said revenue from a 1-cent tax would help cover costs for needed maintenance and infrastructure projects.
French differed. He also said he heard some anger from people who felt those promoting the measure were threatening the end of the world if the tax didn’t pass.
“Powell and Cody and Meeteetse and Park County, I think we’re doing a good job with the money we’ve got. I mean, Park County’s a nice place,” French said. He said local governments will just have to live within their means.
French, who led a group opposed to the tax, was the only local official to speak out against it.
“I think where it was such an overwhelming vote by the people, I wasn’t the only one that felt that way,” French said.
Voters in local municipalities saw more of a need for the tax, but it still struggled in those incorporated places. Those in rural areas overwhelmingly defeated the measure (see box).
The highest opposition came in Clark, where 81 percent of voters opposed it and just 19 percent supported it. The next highest opposition came from the Willwood area, where 79.1 percent voted against the tax.
The proposal enjoyed its highest level of support within the city of Powell, where the tax narrowly passed in four of the five city precincts. The largest margin of support came in the 9-2 precinct, representing north-central Powell, where 53.4 percent of voters supported the tax and 46.5 percent opposed it.
“I’m happy that the precincts in Powell understand what we were trying to do,” said Mayor Mangold. “Voters in Powell understood the projects were needed.”
Thanks to opposition in that fifth precinct, 9-7, it failed overall in Powell — 51.4 percent in favor compared to 48.6 percent opposed.
The tax fell by a wider margin in the city of Cody (42.9 percent in favor against 56.2 percent opposition) and it passed in just one of Cody’s eight precincts. Mangold was surprised that Cody voters did not support the measure more. Mangold said Cody has projects that will need to be completed, and residents there likely will have to pay for it one way or another.
“This was an opportunity for them to have tourists help pay for it,” he said.
Ultimately, Mangold said it appeared that voters made their decision based on “how it would affect each person individually.” Many county residents did not think the tax would benefit roads or bridges near their homes, he said.
Park County is now one of only two counties out of 23 in Wyoming whose tax rate will remain at 4 percent, as Fremont County voters narrowly approved a fifth cent of tax on Tuesday.
Mangold said legislative leaders in Cheyenne have wanted counties to help themselves with an extra cent sales tax. Without the tax and with more state cuts coming, “it will affect us more than neighboring counties when Cheyenne cuts back,” he said.
Mangold said he expects Park County voters will see another proposed 1-cent tax for infrastructure down the road.
“It will have to come up again,” he said. He said it will have a better chance of passing when people see how they’ll be affected.
Grosskopf agreed, saying the public will make a decision if and when services are cut. The public may say “that’s OK,” Grosskopf said, or, “If the day comes and they say that’s not OK, then that will be the day that the 1 percent will pass.”