Another capital facilities tax pitched

Posted 7/14/11

“I’m hearing an increasing number of folks saying it’s time to try another one,” McCormack told commissioners.

The tax, which must be approved by voters, is funded by a temporary 1-cent hike in a county’s sales tax. When the targeted …

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Another capital facilities tax pitched


A new $13.2 million capital facilities tax could serve as a “homemade stimulus” for Park County by paying for an indoor equestrian center in Cody and other, smaller projects in Powell and Meeteetse, a leader of the successful 2006 tax campaign says.

Bruce McCormack, who served as the Cody chair of an effort to pass a similar $13.2 million capital facilities tax five years ago, publicly pitched the idea of another tax during a Park County Commission meeting last week.

“I’m hearing an increasing number of folks saying it’s time to try another one,” McCormack told commissioners.

The tax, which must be approved by voters, is funded by a temporary 1-cent hike in a county’s sales tax. When the targeted amount is collected, the tax ends.

A $7.4 million capital facilities tax passed in 2002 helped build the Park County Law Enforcement Center in Cody; a $14.2 million proposal for improvements at Cody’s West Park Hospital was resoundingly rejected by voters last year.

The last successful tax, which lasted from April 2007 to October 2009, provided $9 million to help build the Powell Aquatic Center, $2.2 million to set up a new Cody library and $2 million to extensively remodel Meeteetse’s pool.

McCormack, publisher of the Cody Enterprise, suggested putting the same $13.2 million total on the ballot in 2012, but this time switch Powell and Cody’s shares, so Powell got $2.2 million and Cody $9 million. Meeteetse would again get $2 million.

“I think Powell could take their $2.2 million and easily double that with grants and turn that into $5 million and have a nice chunk of money,” McCormack said. He said he was sure Meeteetse has many projects they’d like to do as well.

He described it as a “great way for the community to pull itself up” in a tough economy.

In pitching a horse arena, McCormack said “the one thing that makes Cody especially unique and unusual is our rodeo heritage and our horse climate and our guest ranches and our cowboy culture.”

The $9 million, as he envisions it, could help build an indoor arena, provide an endowment for operations and maintenance and also fund improvements to the Cody Stampede Grounds on the city’s west strip.

McCormack said he sees the arena specifically focused on livestock and equestrian events.

“It is not a convention center, it is not an events center,” he told commissioners. “That’s another idea I love, but that’s an idea whose time has not yet come.”

The finished product would be an equestrian/rodeo facility McCormack calls “The Cody Rodeo Complex.” He said it’s been a long-running interest of the equestrian community, and people have been talking to him about the idea. An Enterprise story about McCormack’s proposal, published last week, called an indoor horse arena a “long-time dream” of Cody’s.

However, in an interview last week, Powell Mayor Scott Mangold questioned whether a center geared toward horses would have a broad enough appeal to pass voters’ muster in 2012.

“It sounds like it would be just for a few,” Mangold said, questioning if there would be even 1,000 people among the county’s 28,205 residents who would want to use the facility.

“That was the advantage of the last (successful) cap tax, because everybody had either swum or gone to a library,” Mangold said.

However, in an interview with the Tribune, McCormack later rejected the idea that an equestrian center would have a narrow interest.

“This is horse-crazy country and there are many, many people who could see how they could personally utilize a big equestrian center,” he said of Cody, citing many clubs, high school and college rodeo teams, agriculture interests and the hunting community. Events could range from roping, reining, cutting, racing and all other disciplines of horse use.

“It’s not like this is a polo club,” McCormack said.

Mangold said Powell would be willing to discuss a capital facilities tax if the city of Cody wanted to go that route, but he indicated the city of Powell isn’t interested in adding another facility. He didn’t bring it up, but the city-run Powell Aquatic Center is projected to run a roughly $275,000 operating deficit this fiscal year.

The mayor said the city is focused on improving infrastructure, such as streets, and covering higher garbage transportation costs when the Powell landfill closes to household trash next year.

“I want to keep my utility bill down, that’s my main concern,” Mangold said.

Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown, who was out of town part of last week, said Wednesday that she had only first heard of McCormack’s “out of the blue” proposal that morning and wasn’t in a position to offer specific comments. However, similar to Mangold, Brown did say the city of Cody is looking for ways to pay for its existing infrastructure.

“We have to maintain what we have and have that in good shape before we reach too far in building new things — not that I wouldn’t love to have those things,” she said.

Brown previously served on a committee that worked on proposing a Cody event center until a public push-back led the effort to be abandoned.

“I can understand and can appreciate the value of a facility like that (an equestrian complex), so I’m not saying I wouldn’t support it, but I am saying that it would be difficult,” she said.

Mangold has called for Park County commissioners and Cody and Meeteetse officials to jointly put together a different 1-cent tax proposal, an optional 1-cent tax that — if approved and periodically renewed by voters — could perpetually fund specific government projects. In a survey this spring, Powell residents overwhelmingly indicated they’d rather pay for infrastructure projects through a 1-cent tax instead of utility hikes. Mangold said an optional 1-cent tax will need the unanimous backing of the county, Powell, Cody and Meeteetse governments.

McCormack, however, was skeptical of a 1-cent optional tax proposal, saying there’s been a deafening silence in Cody in response to Magnold’s pitch.

“I wish Mayor Mangold all the success, but it’s got to be county-wide, and it just hasn’t gained a lot of traction in Cody as of yet,” he said. McCormack noted that “all tax measures have a tough time” in conservative Park County.

Brown said the Cody council continues to discuss the idea of an optional 1-cent tax and how it might work.

“These taxes, I think we have to be very judicious about what we ask for and what way we request it, because Park County is not notorious for wanting to get involved with additional taxes,” said Brown of both potential taxes, adding, “Right now in this climate, people are not very tax-minded.”

McCormack said if there are multiple proposals battling to get on the ballot in 2012, it would be important the leaders cooperate and aren’t “playing a game of chicken or anything like that.”

Brown went a bit further.

“I am pretty sure we would have quite a bit of difficulty with two taxes,” she said.

Mangold wants to have meetings in the fall to hammer out an optional 1-cent tax proposal for voters. McCormack laid out a similar timeline for a capital facilities tax proposal.

“If the Cody community, equine community, decided that they did in fact really want to go forward with this idea then we’d reach out and find and secure the partners in Powell and Meeteetse,” McCormack said.

He envisioned groups quietly organizing in the fall with a public campaign launched in spring or summer of next year if the decision was to move forward.

In an interview, the Powell chair of the 2006 cap tax campaign, Dave Blevins, said a third capital facilities tax could work for Powell. However, Blevins also suggested the cap tax be reserved “for really essential things.”

Quickly brainstorming, Blevins mentioned projects like improving the city’s sewers and building a planned garbage transfer station, which he said was “so unromantic but so necessary.” If a new tax went forward, Blevins said he’d want to look at critical projects that can mitigate future increases in taxes.

He didn’t comment on whether he saw a horse arena as the kind of essential cap tax project, saying it would be up to Cody to choose what project it wants to pursue.

Blevins said when he was on the Powell school board, an indoor horse arena was proposed for this area.

“It never got beyond the discussion stage,” he said.