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February 07, 2012 8:59 am

Yellowstone Park tax?

Written by CJ Baker

It takes a lot of money to keep Yellowstone National Park’s sewers, water lines, roads and bridges in working condition for the millions of people who visit the park each year. That’s why a Teton County legislator is sponsoring a bill that would put an additional 1 cent on purchases made in Yellowstone.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, said that during a meeting with Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk last August, a group of legislators were lobbying Wenk on a couple issues — including continued winter access through the East Entrance.

Wenk conveyed that for a lot of the things the legislators want to see happen, “he just doesn’t have any money,” Gingery recalled.

So, Gingery revived an idea brought up years ago — to impose a 1-cent sales tax within Yellowstone’s boundaries to be used only on park infrastructure.

On Monday, he cited concern with roads that aren’t up to par and the importance of maintaining sewer systems — as Yellowstone is “the last place you want to dump raw sewage.”

The proposed tax wouldn’t raise that much money, he said, perhaps $500,000 a year.

State Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, also met with Wenk last year as a part of a “Yellowstone Caucus” group that includes Gingery, Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta.

“Conceptually, I do support the bill because basically it’s almost like a user fee,” Coe said Monday, describing the proposal as having the visitors who use the infrastructure pay for it. He said Yellowstone “obviously” has infrastructure needs.

Coe said he will decide whether to sign onto Gingery’s bill after getting to Cheyenne for the Legislative Budget Session next week.

“I’m still thinking about it because of what’s going on this year with some of our revenues and those kind of things,” he said.

Krone did not immediately return messages left Monday afternoon.

Yellowstone Park spokesman Al Nash said he wasn’t familiar enough with the proposal to comment on it, but speaking generally, he said money for park infrastructure can be hard to come by.

“Over the years, Yellowstone has done reasonably well when it comes to funding for infrastructure or operating budgets, but we certainly have needs that are not currently being met,” Nash said, adding, “There is a lot of demand for those hard-earned taxpayer dollars across the federal Park Service and across all federal agencies.”

He said the park has a “significant” backlog of needed work.

As laid out in the bill, the tax would be assessed only within Yellowstone National Park’s boundaries in Wyoming, and the money could only be used on projects like sewers, water systems, roads, bridges and trails, Gingery said. Concessionaires could not use the money.

“They couldn’t use it to re-do the kitchen at Old Faithful or something ... It would have to be the true infrastructure,” Gingery said.

Unlike optional 1-cent taxes that must be approved by a county’s voters, this tax — like the 4 percent statewide sales tax — would take effect upon passage by the Legislature, Gingery said.

“It would just be imposed,” Gingery said, adding that most permanent Yellowstone residents don’t shop in the park.

Although the land is federally owned and managed by the National Park Service, Yellowstone lies within Park and Teton counties. Park County’s northern portion includes Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village, Fishing Bridge, Norris and Tower-Roosevelt.

Facilities in Yellowstone currently assess Wyoming’s standard 4 percent tax rate on sales. The money is split between the state and local governments. The additional cent, as proposed, would be collected by the state and given entirely to the Park Service.

Coe called the odds of the sales tax bill passing this budget session — where a bill needs two-thirds approval to be introduced — “marginal,” but said it’s “probably good to have the discussion.” He said the idea was proposed in Cody, unsuccessfully, about 15 years ago.

Gingery said he doesn’t know what his fellow legislators will think of it.

“Even if it doesn’t pass, what it shows Yellowstone is that we’re willing to be a partner with them,” and that “the state of Wyoming, we have some skin in the game, too,” Gingery said. He said legislators realize that Yellowstone is “our bread and butter” for tourism.

6 comments

  • Comment Link February 07, 2012 9:55 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Interesting how RINO's want to tax & spend on one hand while moaning about those "tax & spend Liberals" on the other hand.Hypocrisy,or just more BS from the "do as I say,not as I do" crowd.

  • Comment Link February 07, 2012 11:53 am posted by Dewey

    It has long, Long, LONG been a contention of mine that we in Wyoming and especially Park County are not treating Yellowstone fairly with regards to taxation and management. Our legislators and County Commisioners constantly whine and wail at YNP at the very same time they stand there with their hands out to rake in the millions in Sales Tax and north of $ 400,000 in Park COunty Lodging Tax collected inside Yellowstone Park each year , which goes directly to state and county coffers, but never offering anything in return but grief.

    Former YNP superintendent Mike Finley told me candidly one time after he left the federal government that " all I ever got from Cody was grief".

    Has Park County ever offered to step up and groom Sylvan Pass or provide logistical assistance with the expensive operations ? Maybe assume ALL the risk on Sylvan Pass instead of walling it off by refusing to plow the highway from Pahaska to the East Entrance station out of spite ( how vindictive is THAT ? ). The state of Wyoming DEQ once sued the Park Service and won for allowing sewage to seep into Yellowstone Lake from the Lake Village antiquated system , and fined the Park Service $ 25,000 for that , but did it offer to help fix it ? No. What about that mudslide at Sedge Creek that may keep the East Entrance Road closed till late July this year ---any offers of Wy-DOT assistance there ? You watch and listen ---our elected officials will whine so loud it can be heard from Washington D.C. if the East Entrance Road is closed for repairs.

    The State and Park County have already cooperating agency agreements and Mutual Aid agreements for fire, law enforcement, safety , etc etc etc. just as the Forest Service has contracts with Park County to plow certain USFS roads in winter , like the Chief Joseph Highway all the way to Pilot Creek.

    Maybe it is time for Wyoming and Park County to put their money where their mouth is, and make sure the revenue stream flows both ways to/from Yellowstone. We do get a wealth of benefit from having that Park just up the road.

    Try imagining Cody without it...

  • Comment Link February 07, 2012 2:57 pm posted by Salty Dawg

    Dewey,I imagined that long ago.Park County,Cody in particular,would all but dry up if that East Gate were not open at all.Remember,those who have the most,scream the loudest.In Cody's eyes,Yellowstone belongs to them.

  • Comment Link February 08, 2012 7:23 pm posted by Grm

    One cent tax? Not enough, should be at least 10%. Visitors to the Park could care less. Yellowstone Park is a wonderful and almost magical place. It is being loved to death and needs all the help it can get.

  • Comment Link February 11, 2012 10:24 pm posted by Dean

    The state of Wyoming collects 4 percent tax in YNP as well, so if they want let them spend that to help....

  • Comment Link February 11, 2012 10:54 pm posted by MGEO

    Agreed.

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