Two years ago this month, local government leaders sent surveys to residents, asking questions about a 1-cent sales tax. At the time, the City of Powell also identified which projects were on their “wish list” if a tax measure was approved.
The first item on the city’s list: Absaroka Street improvements.
After the survey found that voters were open to the idea of a specific purpose tax, government leaders for Powell, Cody, Meeteetse and Park County put a tax on the November 2016 ballot.
Among the projects listed on the ballot was $4.25 million for “rebuilding the water line, street widening, storm drains, curb, gutter and sidewalks, trees, updating lights and ADA projects” on Absaroka Street.
The tax passed with 53 percent of the vote.
Fast forward two years. The extra pennies are accumulating and the city is finalizing plans for the street work, slated to begin this fall.
During a meeting last week, some Powell residents expressed concern about the project, questioning why the city hadn’t made more of an effort to let them know that it was essentially a done deal.
Unfortunately, we expect more residents may be upset when construction crews start working on the popular street and cutting down long-established trees. Oftentimes, when major changes happen in our community, we hear a similar complaint: “Why didn’t anyone tell me this was happening?”
If you’re not reading the newspaper, listening to the radio, attending public meetings or showing up to vote, it is easy to miss big decisions.
In the case of Absaroka Street, beyond the description on the ballot, there were numerous articles and letters to the editor about the proposed work leading up to the November 2016 general election.
Of course, many people didn’t expect the 1-cent tax proposal to pass, since similar initiatives failed in the past.
But the lesson here is to pay attention to what’s happening in our community. When major government projects or policies are proposed, officials usually ask for input.
All too often, we hear crickets at local meetings when it’s time for comments from the public.
In a recent example, Park County hosted meetings on the future of elections with the goal of gathering local residents’ thoughts. For instance, would you like to mail in your ballot? Would it be OK if Park County had just a few voting centers?
Only four people attended last week’s meeting in Powell. It’s certainly possible that residents aren’t at all concerned about the future of elections or took the online survey. But if, hypothetically, there are just two voting centers in 2020 instead of the nine polling places Park County voters are used to, we expect some unhappy voters are going to complain.
That is why there’s value in paying attention while public officials are still talking about ideas and looking for input from the community. It may require attending a public meeting for the first time, reading more news or calling an elected official to ask about a project.
But the time to pay attention and get informed is now. In two years, it likely will be too late.