The one cent specific purpose excise tax approved by Park County voters in 2016 will be coming to an end March 31, with final dispersals for the more than $13.68 million raised for specific public works projects to be completed by April.
“It really benefits the community in a good way,” Park County Treasurer Barbara Poley said.
It appears the allotted $13.68 million goal will be reached about six months earlier than projected, which Poley attributed to conservative forecasting and sales growth from when the tax was planned.
“I was very conservative,” Poley said. “I didn’t want to say it was going to be paid out … and that’s assured.”
Park County, Cody, Powell and Meeteetse each received a share of the funds. The “5th cent” sales tax was lumped onto the state’s standard 4 percent sales tax, which has remained steady since the 1930s. Under state sales tax, local governments keep 30 percent of revenue while the state keeps the other 70 percent. With the 5th cent tax, local governments get to keep 99 percent of the tax.
Poley said the grand total collected will actually exceed $13.68 million when combined with the state’s one percent portion by what she estimates, “a few hundred thousand dollars.” This is to ensure the county gets its fair share of money promised and is also used to cover for administrative fees. Any over-collections will be dispersed throughout the county in the next fiscal year.
“They (state) may ask for funds back so this way we’ve got funds sitting there in case there’s any audit corrections,” Poley said. “After that, we do disperse it out and the entities have to use it accordingly.”
When tax collection is complete the Cody will take in the largest share of tax revenue with 36.5 percent or $5 million raised for a sewer lagoon upgrade project, crack and chip sealing to paved city streets and additional Americans with Disabilities Act ramps. Powell received $4.25 million for four blocks of road improvements on Absaroka Street and the county took in $2.43 million for road and bridge projects.
As of Oct. 31 the City of Cody had spent more than $1.4 million for its projects with none yet completed.
Powell city councilman Scott Mangold said street work in Powell is set to begin in the spring, “or when we get spring weather.”
“Meeteetse would never have gotten this done,” Poley said. “Powell would never have gotten the extra money to do what they did. We (Park County) could take it out or reserves, but how many times can we take money out of reserves for these type of projects?”
Though Meeteetse is taking the smallest slice of the tax pie with $2 million, Mayor J.W. Yetter said the funding was critical for installing a new sewer pump station, sewer lift, sewers and electrical installation at an industrial site in his town.
“We appreciate this opportunity to get our infrastructure caught up to speed and go forward,” Yetter said. “We definitely need some assistance.”
Yetter said the sewer upgrade is still in the planning stage with bidding starting soon for the work set to begin in May.
“This was really a big deal in Meeteetse,” said county commissioner Jake Fulkerson. “I was really glad to see that come through because there was zero options, no other options. And that was a big part of their infrastructure.”
The county is using its share of funds for four road projects, including three bridge replacement projects and the $10.8 million Federal Land Access Program South Fork Road improvements project. Park County is paying for about $2.1 million of the project while the remaining $8.6 million will be doled out by the federal government.
Work on Bridge EGD on County Road 6QS in the South Fork is now completed with the two other bridge work projects slated to commence in the next year said county engineer Brian Edwards. Edwards also mentioned the county will take bidders on the South Fork FLAP project in January with construction to run from April to October in 2019.
The county and three municipalities have been receiving funds since the tax began in April 2017, after the 5th cent sales tax passed with a 7,772-6,904 vote in 2016.
Special purpose taxes in Park County from years past have funded building the Park County Law Enforcement building, renovating the former Marathon building in Cody for use as a library, an aquatic center in Powell and a school swimming pool upgrade in Meeteetse.
In November 2012 county voters turned down a 1 percent general purpose sales tax, which could have been used for projects of the county’s discretion.
Monies from a specific purpose sales tax can only be used for specific projects and cannot be diverted into county and city general funds, as Wyoming specific purpose sales tax laws stipulate.
“Each entity will be responsible for using those funds for those projects only,” Poley said.
The county commissioners, Meeteetse, Powell and Cody city councils have all passed resolutions accepting the tax cease.
County commissioner Tim French campaigned against the tax when lobbied in 2016 and expressed continued distaste for the penny charge. At the Dec. 18 meeting he criticized the county’s annual household contribution estimate, claiming it “way more” than projected.
“I think I’ve been proven right that it cost the average family in Park County way more than $60 a year,” French said. “Everybody- ‘I was shocked all the money is way ahead of projections.’ Yeah, that’s because all the families are paying a lot more than $60.”
Based on a formula derived by the Wyoming Office of Economic Analysis in 2015, the impact the 1 cent sales tax was to have on an average Park County income household of around $50,000 a year was $80 annually.
“I didn’t hear a thing from anyone from when this went on and I bet we won’t hear a thing when it goes off,” Fulkerson said.
Visitors were estimated to contribute 34 percent of the tax annually, based off 2015 projections from historical data. Tourist impact, which included Yellowstone National Park sales taxes, was evident in the summer months, which about doubled in gross tax revenue from winter months over tax implementation. About 49 percent of Yellowstone is in Park County according to Park County Assessor Pat Meyer.
“The slower months, the locals are not paying as much,” Poley said. “It’s the (traditionally) bigger months, the sales the tax is going up. The tourists are paying if you look.”
The tax was applied to all county sales, but came with 49 exemptions including real estate purchases, food, fuel, fertilizer and farm equipment.
Under Wyoming law, municipalities cannot currently pass local option taxes but legislation is expected in the upcoming Wyoming legislature that may aim to change that.
“The pushback is, ‘we should be able to raise our own taxes.’ Followed by, the cities have really bad infrastructure needs and revenue problems,” Peter Obermuller, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association said of the proposed legislations. “Unless we fundamentally change the relationship the state has with the counties, it’s not going to work.”
Obermuller said passing such a bill would inflict disproportionate taxes on residents of municipalities which already instituted their own sales tax, when another special use tax was passed from their county.
Poley said there are no plans yet on the table for any future taxes. Under the four-year sunset rules in regards to the 5th cent tax, another tax can be asked of voters by 2020.
“It sounds like Meeteetse’s really wanting another one,” Poley said. “We can look back and say … ‘we were very fiscally responsible.’”