Powell leaders want voters to mull 1-cent tax

Posted 4/26/11

Powell City Administrator Zane Logan said the city’s budget for the coming year is “the worst I’ve ever seen” in nearly 20 years of work.

“It’s to the point where there is no fat, there is no extra anymore,” Logan said.

Mangold …

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Powell leaders want voters to mull 1-cent tax


Citing a grim financial picture, city of Powell leaders want Park County voters to consider passing an additional, ongoing 1-cent sales tax in a special election this November.

“Why haven’t we ever tried at least to put it before the voters?” Powell Mayor Scott Mangold asked Park County, Cody and Meeteetse leaders during a meeting last week.

Powell City Administrator Zane Logan said the city’s budget for the coming year is “the worst I’ve ever seen” in nearly 20 years of work.

“It’s to the point where there is no fat, there is no extra anymore,” Logan said.

Mangold said the city is “running into problems not only with our aquatics center but our golf course.”

He said he’s concerned about swimming and golfing becoming too expensive for Powell residents if projected expenses are met only by increasing user fees.

Already, “Powell people don’t golf there (the Powell golf course). People can’t afford it,” Mangold said. Other budget concerns he cited were rising gas prices, already frozen city employee salaries and a lack of money to widen and fix some Powell streets.

“For us to fix our streets, it (the cost) goes up a big margin every year and as we’ve noticed, the legislators aren’t willing to really help us out a whole lot,” said Mangold.

This winter, the state Legislature approved an additional $45 million in funding for local governments, but rejected a proposal by Gov. Matt Mead to provide governments with an ongoing stream of funding from severance taxes, which would have provided about $52 million.

Mangold described going without the optional fifth-cent sales tax — which has been adopted in all of the state’s 23 counties except Park, Fremont and Sublette — as governing with “one arm tied behind our back.”

Powell leaders cited a recently-completed city-wide survey in which 52 percent of respondents said they would rather pay for projects through a 1-cent tax, as opposed to not paying at all (44 percent) or having increased utilities (4 percent). In that survey, residents ranked funding for the Powell Golf Course as the lowest of their priorities.

For a special election to be held this November, at least two of the three municipalities — Powell, Cody and Meeteetse — and Park County commissioners would have to support sending a fifth-cent tax proposal to the voters.

Powell’s pitch was met with a mixed response at a joint meeting on Thursday.

Park County Commission Chairman Bucky Hall said he personally was “very supportive of putting it in front of the voters.”

Commissioner Tim French, however, said after the meeting that he was “totally opposed to it and I will not vote for it.”

“When you use that money up (from a 1-cent optional tax), then it still won’t be enough. They’ll want more because there’s always some project they’ll want to do,” French said.

Meeteetse Mayor Andy Abbott indicated he was supportive of asking voters for the tax, citing the amount of money the 1-cent can bring for local governments.

Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said her city has thought about the idea of a fifth-cent, but said she would need more feedback from citizens before feeling comfortable enough to move forward.

“The best way to do it is to ask every one of your citizens,” offered Mangold. “You can do it in November when everyone goes to the polls.”

Cody City Councilman Charles Cloud indicated he was supportive of the general idea of a fifth-cent, which would be collected and distributed across Park County.

Citing a lack of help from the Legislature, “At some point in time we have to take care of ourselves and fund ourselves so we can take care of the projects we need to take care,” Cloud said, adding, “We’ve got roads that need to be fixed.”

Commissioner Dave Burke said that if the money was earmarked for infrastructure “it would be much better received” by voters.

Cody Councilman Steve Miller echoed those remarks, cautioning that many organizations will want a portion of the potential money in exchange for their support of the tax.

“Pretty soon, it’s gone, no matter how you figure it. So the long and the short of it, if we’re serious, as Dave (Burke) said, committing it to infrastructure, that’s what we need to do,” he said.

Miller said he’d only support such a tax if the projects that would be funded with the money were specifically spelled out to voters as they are with capital facilities (specific purpose) taxes.

Previous such taxes passed by county voters funded the construction of the Park County Law Enforcement Center in 2002 and the new Powell pool, Cody library and Meeteetse pool renovations in 2006. A proposed capital facilities tax for West Park Hospital failed badly at the polls in November.

As to why Powell is seeking an optional fifth cent this time, Logan said the concern with capital facilities taxes is that “we keep putting money in capital, but how do you maintain it?”

A fifth-cent tax would continue until voters rejected it, going up for re-authorization two years after its first passage, then every four years after that.

Mangold said conservatively, a 1 cent tax would bring around $471,428 per month, with somewhere between 25 to 30 percent borne by tourists. He said the 1 cent specific purpose tax that funded the pools and library in the county cost the average Park County resident $16.72 per month.

Mangold conceded the tax would impact some individuals, such as farmers, “but if we can lower the cost for some of the services we are providing, that could help out the income-challenged.”

Powell City Councilman Don Hillman said he thinks people in Park County want nice things, but are realizing that with oil and gas not as high as it once was, “we can’t afford that stuff anymore.”

“We’re going to have to have our ducks in a row. This isn’t going to be an easy sell,” Hillman said.

“If they don’t vote for it, then I guess we just don’t fund it,” Logan said. “We don’t have the money any more.”