The Powell City Council passed a resolution this month that the mayor described as the council’s “promise to the public on what we’ll do with that 1-cent sales tax,” if voters …
The Powell City Council passed a resolution this month that the mayor described as the council’s “promise to the public on what we’ll do with that 1-cent sales tax,” if voters approve the countywide tax in November.
The resolution lists a number of infrastructure projects, social programs and capital improvements that would be considered priorities for the funding from the proposed 1% tax.
“There’s that misconception that if it’s voted in, we’re just going to blow it,” City Administrator Zack Thorington said at a separate special meeting where the items listed on the resolution were discussed.
The tax is projected to raise $6 million countywide each year, and Powell’s share of that would be about $1.5 million.
At the special meeting, Mayor John Wetzel discussed the shrinking state budgets, which are seeing significant cuts across all departments. For years, the state has distributed $105 million to counties, cities and towns based on population. If this funding is lost, Wetzel said, Powell would “be hurting in a big way” without the tax to replace those lost revenues. Funding for things like the Powell Senior Center and the Powell animal shelter could be in jeopardy.
“I’m not trying to blackmail anybody, but it’s a cold fact,” the mayor said.
Thorington added that the city’s general fund has been slimmed down so much over the years that there wouldn’t be a lot of fat to trim if they lose the $105 million from the state.
“We just keep getting less and less revenue, and our costs keep going up and up,” Thorington said. “We’ve done our due diligence. We’ve cut personnel, and we’re more efficient. We have less people now than we did 15 years ago.”
Other outside programs the city provides funding for include Big Brothers Big Sisters, Youth Clubs of Park County, and the Powell Recreation District — all of which were listed as priorities for funding from the proposed tax on the resolution passed by the council.
The list also included a number of infrastructure projects, such as the ongoing efforts to slurry seal city roads. The treatment needs to be done every seven years, and it greatly extends the life of a road, which saves money in future road reconstruction. Right now, the city is behind on that schedule by a few years, meaning town roads are getting treated every decade.
The council also included the widening of Division Street as a priority project, which would also include replacing water and storm drains under the road. The estimated cost is in the neighborhood of $2 million.
There are a lot of curb and gutter projects as well, including ramps at street corners, which are required by the American with Disabilities Act.
“We’re required to continue to make progress on some of our corners,” Wetzel said.
Another priority is a program to fix sidewalks, modeled on a similar program in Cody, in which the city splits the cost of repair or installing sidewalks with the homeowner. New subdivisions are required to put in sidewalks, curb, and gutters, but in the past, the ordinance didn’t exist or wasn’t enforced. The full costs of installing new sidewalks can be high.
“It’s 100% on landowners right now and obviously, we got 100% of nothing right now,” the mayor said.
Repairs to Seventh Street on the Northwest College Campus were also listed on the resolution. There currently is no cost estimate on that project, which would need to involve discussions with the NWC administration.
“It’s our right of way, but you’d want to work with the college on that. You wouldn’t just want to tear it up,” Thorington said.
City officials also included under “various curb and gutter install and repairs” the repairing of the “valley gutters,” which are those large dips seen on some roads — such as the intersection of Day Street and First Street.
While they serve as speed bumps, “all the buildup over the years, they do tear up your front end,” Thorington said.
These infrastructure projects could also get funding from $1.1 million in surplus collections on the 1% specific-purpose tax that funded improvements to Absaroka Street. With a resolution and a 30-day notice, the council could reallocate the funding to other projects.
Park improvements, including a new splash pad at the old frog pond, were also included in the resolution.
The mayor said the splash pad is one of the projects constituents ask him about regularly.
“They ask me, ‘Whatever happened to our froggy pond?’” Wetzel said.
Not on the list
At the special meeting, the council decided against including some projects, including anything that could be addressed with the city’s enterprise funds, such as improvements to the transfer station or a city-owned truck to haul to Billings.
The enterprise funds are supported with the fees people pay for services, such as electric and garbage bills.
“General fund is where we have the hurt,” Thorington said.
Councilor Steve Lensegrav asked about the possibility of using fifth-cent funding for gymnasium space, which he said was lacking in town.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the problem, as Powell has relied on schools to provide recreational facilities, which were closed.
“We don’t have a viable community center in this town, which is kind of odd for the family-oriented town that we have,” Lensegrav said.
One wall at the Powell Aquatic Center was engineered so the building can be expanded for gym space, and Councilor Scott Mangold asked about the possibility of expanding it.
“Even if you just put up a steel building, that would help out,” Mangold said, where people could set up a volleyball net or makeshift basketball court.
However, Thorington cautioned making such projects a priority. He pointed out that once you build the facility, the operations and maintenance costs put a strain on the weakening general fund.
“That’s the concern I have,” Thorington said.
The mayor suggested that such a project would be better served by a specific-purpose tax, which the voters would need to approve for the defined purpose.
“I’m fully in favor of it. I just don’t think it fits in this side of the general use tax,” Wetzel said.
Lensegrav agreed that during difficult economic times like these, selling the general purpose tax might be harder with such items.
Voters will decide whether to raise Park County tax rate from 4 to 5% during the Nov. 3 election. Powell’s list of priorities will not appear on the ballot itself.
City sales tax priorities
The Powell City Council passed a resolution this month listing priorities for the general purpose sales tax, which voters will consider in the November election. The goal is to give voters an idea of how the city would use the funds if the tax is approved.
The resolution lists the following as priorities:
• Public safety and maintenance — vehicles and equipment;
• Continued special request annual funding of Big Brothers Big Sisters; Youth Clubs of Park County; Caring for Powell Animals; Crisis Intervention; Powell Recreation District; Powell Senior Center;
• Slurry and chip seal overlays;
• ADA ramps;
• Various curb and gutter install and repairs;
• College Seventh Street repairs;
• Widen Division Street from Coulter to Avenue G;
• Develop Cedarwood Park and other park improvements listed in the capital improvement plan;
• Build splash pad; and
• 50/50 sidewalk repair replacement program.