In response to a more than $1.9 million county deficit and a lack of solutions to fully fill the gap, the Park County Commissioners have issued their first strong signs of support for a 1 percent general use sales tax that would be asked upon voters on the November 2020 ballot.

The tax would bring in more than $3 million annually for Park County government.

“I’ll be the first one leading that parade,” commissioner Joe Tilden said. “The county has got to have it if we want to maintain the services we provide today.”

Park and Sublette are the only two Wyoming counties to not currently have a fifth cent general purpose tax.

“We’re the only county as far as I’m concerned (that doesn’t have it),” Pat Meyer, Park County assessor said. “Sublette doesn’t count. They have $2.6 billion in valuation and they’ve got no people. Their reserves are $123 million.”

Currently, voters in Wyoming communities have the option to vote on the tax every two or four years. If approved it can be reauthorized on two or four year cycles.

When a general use tax was asked upon voters in 2012, nearly 61 percent opposed it.

“If people want us to maintain the services at the current level, we’re going to need to find some more money,” said Tilden, who did not support the 2012 tax.

The county deficit could be as much as $2.2-2.3 million for 2021 as a 2 percent cost of living adjustment on employees’ gross wages is being strongly considered for 2021.

But Meyer was also critical of how much money the county is keeping in reserves. In order to cover the deficit in July, the commissioners pulled $1.3 million from reserves, but more than $14 million still exists in that account.

“Every document I have says you should have no more than six months in reserves, which we have more than that now,” Meyer said. “Most people will have three months in there.”

Over the past six months, Tilden has been spearheading a budget committee to devise ways to cover the county’s money woes. Although many philosophical changes and ideas were presented, only about $1.5 million in direct savings were identified by the committee.

All of the commissioners voiced support for the fifth cent idea, but Lee Livingston said he would only vote for such a measure if it was clearly delineated that the money generated would be put into reserves.

“We would have to educate the voters on why we would be good stewards of those reserves,” chair Jake Fulkerson said.

Multiple commissioners like Lloyd Thiel said if a tax does not pass, county staff and services will be cut.

“I will not support (pulling from reserves) a deficit next year,” Thiel said.

But even if it were to pass, tax revenues would not go into effect until more than halfway through the 2021 fiscal cycle.

“It effects people’s lives,” Fulkerson said. “Either it’s employees or residents in the county that wake up on a Sunday and their road is not plowed because we’re not paying overtime.”

The commissioners and county staff seemed to express a lack of interest in asking voters again for a specific use capital tax. In 2016, the county approved that kind of tax with a 7,772-6,904 vote.

That tax was dispersed to Cody, Park County, Powell and Meeteetse for specifically designated projects. In Cody, $5 million was 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, and Meeteetse installed a new sewer pump station, sewer lift, sewers and electrical installation.

“The cap(ital) tax is great but it doesn’t really free that much money for our general fund,” Tilden said. “But if we were to receive $3 million a year from a general purpose fifth penny tax, we could plan years down the road for projects.”

Commissioner Dossie Overfield expressed worry a general use tax would have a harder time finding voter support if other local governments asked for their own specific purpose tax.

“I’m not sure you’re going to go to the voters with both of them,” she said.

A piece of legislation recently passed through the Wyoming Joint Committee on Revenue in November that would give county voters the option to permanently enact a fifth penny tax. The house will act on this bill in early 2020.

Library board member John Gordnier recommended the county emphasize its prior fiscal savviness in any marketing it may do for a fifth cent campaign. After a specific use tax was approved by voters in 2016, that tax completed six months earlier than projected.

“You need to show history,” Gordnier said. “You can make a decent argument that you’ve always been efficient with your expenditures.”

Brian Edwards, Park County engineer, also said the county needs to aggressively pursue all savings options before asking a tax.

“It’s a lot easier to look the taxpayer in the eye after we’ve made some of these other hard decisions,” Fulkerson said. “It could be a smaller workforce that we pay better.”

Thiel said it will take cut services for residents to buy into a new tax.

“Lines getting bigger downstairs, potholes not getting filled – then they may realize,” he said.

The county will have until April 2020 to decide if it wants to pull the trigger and put another tax on the ballot.

(8) comments

Gunrunner Auctions

I get a kick out of retired folks who tell us working folks all about the economy.... It is a FACT that people from Cody, the Basin and clear past Thermopolis drive to Billings and shop to escape our tax and SAVE MONEY. Of course. It is totally untrue that Cody merchants would or could "price match". If you doubt this, then when driving to Billings see how many 11 and 9 plates pass you and then when you get to Billings you will see MANY, MANY 11 and 9 plates in Sam's, Costco, Cabela's, Schell's, etc. It's like homecoming week in these Billings stores as you see so many people you know you can hardly get any shopping done!

OF COURSE higher taxes drive people to Billings and HURT Cody vendors. I am a Cody vendor and I'm here to tell you that the 5% hurts us MUCH MORE than the 4%. People WILL drive to Billings to save $50. Absolutely. As a vendor, they tell me this. I see it with my own eyes. I'm in the gun business. A buyer will drive to Billings for a new elk rifle in a heart beat after talking to me for two hours about it (I couldn't possibly beat the big boxes who charge no tax - no way, now how). I've seen it hundreds and hundreds of times!

As for the "$14 million reserve" - that is OUR TAX MONEY. That's darn near a WHOLE YEAR OF REVENUE FOR PARK COUNTY! When that is used up, THEN a new tax could be considered. I can assure you that for Wyoming schools, counties and municipalities to have reserves is very rare compared to the rest of the country. Back East schools and counties and municipalities are in the RED. Some schools are going to the state for "loans" or bailout! Towns are going without services or sewer upgrades/pipelines, etc. as the people cannot afford more taxes. I would say an "emergency" is a two million dollar deficit in a bad budget. Make cuts. Use the reserve. Oil and gas revenues could come back up.

I was on the Cody School Board for a term. We have $6.5 million in reserve and some of that money went clear back to the 1990's! Believe it or not, these public services are holding onto this money long, long past any "emergency" value.... Hmmm.... That's OUR money! USE IT. Don't tax us more. That's insane.

I say it is absurd for our county commissioners and our county treasurer to allow oil companies to postpone their payment of taxes (we individuals must pay our taxes on time!) giving them time to declare bankruptcy and leave us in the lurch. Who is watching this? Then they come to us for a NEW tax to bail out incorrect monitoring of tax payments? In my business I would fire the person who is collecting money if they did that to me.

I wish people would wake up and look at reality instead of inventing reasons for new taxes. A good majority of the county commissioners bill themselves as conservative Republicans, but advocating for a tax when you have $14 million in reserve reminds me of an Obuma liberal.

Some of these county commissioners have further aspirations as politicians. They want to go to Cheyenne and affect state matters. We will be reminding them when they give their "good old boy conservative" speeches that there was a day when they wanted MORE taxes when they were sitting on a $14 million reserve. Maybe that's what it takes to give them a dose of reality. Hmmm....

sam_systems

Park Co. people just don't support local businesses, period. I think it's a sum of jealousy (can't let some local biz owner get rich), not realizing that $ spent locally remains in the community or whatever. These same people who don't support local biz are bold enough to approach these same vendors and ask for a donation to fund their pet group or lil' sissie's dance club. If you don't shop local then don't hit these people up for donations. Cody with 10,000 is a vibrant economy - for Billings and Amazon

todayistheday

If you want to " maintain the level of services ", no brainer ! Four cents is okay, but five cents is to much ? That I don't get ! Discussing reserves, well that is the same thing as having funds for emergencies, and a savings account ! You don't pay your bills with your emergency or savings account, so I understand that ! As far as folks going to shop in Billings, some folks do, but I would bet, far more shop through Amazon, that's why there is such a big U.P.S., and Fed-Ex presence here, more people shopping on-line, ! Personally I prefer to touch what I am buying ! Going from a four cent to five cent tax, is not what drives folks to Billings. What I do hear, is lack of product options, and non competitive pricing, plus, dinning options, and a wider movie selection at the theater, as well as medical appointments ! I just don't know anybody who goes to billings to save fifteen, twenty, even fifty dollars in tax, when it cost forty dollars in fuel, plus lunch ! I just do not get five pennies being so much worse than four pennies ! When I retired, I payed 9.75% on the dollar, plus 30 something state income tax, with marginal rate above that ! Maybe it is time for a state income tax ? Infrastructure costs money to build, and maintain. I never thought about sales tax, because you have to pay it ! I bought what I needed or wanted, and payed the tax. I never drove two hours away to buy something, because, most vendors would match a price to gain a consumer, and put money in the till. I did not retire here for tax reasons by the way, I came here years ago on a hunt, I retired here, because it is just a beautiful place to live, fish, and hunt, well not so much hunting, as age, catches up with you. A small town with good people, who have good values !

Disgusted taxpayer

And the repubs moan about those tax and spend Liberals.

Tom83

I'd like to see the county start going after residents who are running out of state plates to save $. I just got my registration renewal in the mail. 87% of the money collected goes to the county. Park County is losing a lot of money to these fraudulent citizens.

Disgusted taxpayer

Tax..tax..tax..and to think it's usually the Democrats getting blamed for raising taxes.

Gunrunner Auctions

Stop the presses! If our county has $14 MILLION on reserve, WHY would they feel a need to float a tax that will hurt our vendors to raise $3 million? Does NOT make sense. I do NOT support it. Period. As a vendor, it sure does drive even more people to Billings. This is a fact. You gotta be kidding me.....

Trehorn

By law, all goods purchased by Wyomingites with no sales tax from Billings need to be paid. Park County, if they would enforce this, would have more $$$ then they'd know what to do with. But, oh well, let's "tax" us to death instead of doing what's right

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