Park County voters will decide in November whether they want to approve an additional 1% sales tax to help fund the Powell, Cody, Meeteetse and county governments.
On Monday, the Powell City Council passed a resolution to put the tax on the general election ballot and Park County commissioners did the same on Tuesday, formally sending it to voters; the City of Cody and Town of Meeteetse previously voted to send the question to the public.
Wyoming has a 4% sales and use tax for all counties, but counties may add another percent on top of that with voter approval.
Mayor John Wetzel pointed out the city had a number of projects funded with a 1% tax, including the construction of the Powell Aquatic Center and the widening of Absaroka Street.
“As a city we’ve benefited immensely from this fifth penny in a lot of different ways,” the mayor said.
Those projects were funded with a specific-purpose tax, which can only be spent on the specific voter-approved project and ends around the time the needed revenue is collected.
Unlike specific-purpose taxes, voters in November will consider a general purpose tax, meaning the revenue it raises can be used for any governmental purpose.
County commissioners say they need additional funding to cover the current expenses of day-to-day operations.
“This is super hard to do, to ask for, but I think we’re at a position where we at least need to ask,” said Commissioner Dossie Overfield. “If it doesn’t happen, there will be some changes and things that we can’t do.”
Cody Mayor Matt Hall attended the commission meeting to support the resolution.
“I think we’re pretty close to needing this,” Hall said. “I think that, that we’re going to see some stuff potentially at the state level that’s going to make this compulsory for us to be able to operate our local governments.”
Based on the most recent 1% tax, it could raise upwards of $7 million per year; the county expects that it would get roughly $3.3 million a year.
“We certainly don’t need all of that for our general operations, but it will put us in a position that we can plan in the future for projects, which where we are right now, we’re not there,” said Commission Chairman Joe Tilden, saying that the county has put off needed maintenance.
Mayor Wetzel noted the tax will expire in four years unless voters agree to continue it in the 2024 election.
The Wyoming Legislature in the last session passed a bill that permits counties to make the tax permanent with voter approval, but Park County is not pursuing that option.
If voters approve the tax, Mayor Wetzel said the city is looking at a few options for how to spend the money — including slurry seal, sidewalk ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or possible improvements to Division Street.
Powell City Councilman Scott Mangold said it was “good to let the public decide” on the tax and that the council’s vote to put it on the ballot was not approving the tax itself.
“It’s not a voicing of approval. It’s just to let the public actually vote on it,” Mangold said.
Commissioner Lee Livingston made similar remarks at the commission meeting.
“You’ve got people that want it, you’ve got people that don’t want it,” Livingston said. “The place to decide that is at the ballot box.”
The general election is Nov. 3.