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Hold your horses: Equestrian center tax pitch shelved

A proposal to build an indoor equestrian center on Cody’s west strip with a temporary 1-cent sales tax has been put on hold.

Tony Scheiber, a Cody veterinarian who has helped lead the charge for the project, said the center’s proponents don’t want to conflict with a separate 1-cent tax proposal being discussed by leaders from Park County, the city of Powell, the city of Cody and the town of Meeteetse.

As outlined in preliminary discussions, the government leaders’ proposed tax would pay for infrastructure improvements around the county, such as for roads, sewers and bridges.

“We felt that those projects were important, and by putting both (taxes) on the ballot, probably neither one would pass,” said Scheiber.

Powell Mayor Scott Mangold said the local government officials are having a meeting next week and may decide then if they’re going forward with a tax proposal.

“It’s still in the feeling-out stage,” Mangold said in an interview last week.

If the governments do put forward such a proposal, it would likely be considered by Park County voters in the November general election.

“If for some reason they decide not to do their project, then we’ll move forward on our project,” Scheiber said.

He said there’s a lot of interest in Park County for an equestrian center, particularly among youth groups.

“We’re pretty convinced and pretty committed to the project, it’s just the timing has to be right,” Scheiber said.

A rough outline of the facility presented to an enthusiastic group in Cody last October was for a 425- by 100-foot facility with a 1,500-seat arena and pens and a separate unheated building with horse stalls.

Possible uses for the facility include a wide variety of horse events — from open riding to winter rodeo to barrel racing — along with other activities like cattle sales that could benefit local youth and boost Cody’s winter season.

As originally envisioned by Bruce McCormack, another project supporter and the publisher of the Cody Enterprise, the equestrian center would be financed in part as the centerpiece of a $13.2 million capital facilities tax pitched to voters, with smaller projects for the Powell and Meeteetse communities. He cited the last cap tax approved by voters as a model: 2006’s $13.2 million tax that sent $9 million to Powell’s new pool, $2.2 million to the Cody library and $2 million to Meeteetse’s pool. Powell and Cody’s sums would be roughly reversed for the equestrian center, McCormack had said.

In an interview last week, Scheiber said the equestrian center’s backers had not yet found partner projects in Powell and Meeteetse to go with the Cody center.

A couple Park County commissioners had publicly questioned if the timing was right for a new capital facilities tax, as did Mangold. He and Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown have each said they would rather focus on maintenance of existing facilities than build new ones.

“The cap tax hasn’t had a good image as of late, after the last one,” said Mangold.

County voters defeated a $14.2 million cap tax that would have solely paid for improvements to West Park Hospital in Cody by a two-to-one margin in 2010.

Mangold said if a optional 1-cent sales tax is pitched to voters this fall, the money will need to spent on infrastructure and not employee raises or special interest projects.

His examples of needed projects in Powell included the long-planned widening of Absaroka Street, fixing drainage issues on Division Street and removing the concrete median from Coulter Avenue. Mangold said the city simply hasn’t had money to pay for the improvements.

“We like the direction they (the Legislature) have been talking about, but you know, all these years we’ve been putting off all these projects, and they’re starting to come to light here pretty soon,” he said.

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