To the editor:
I am writing in response to Mr. David Kiester’s letter to the editor Sept. 30 “Tell us more about general purpose sales tax.”
First, I must say that as a taxpayer and citizen of Park County, Mr. Kiester is certainly entitled to voice his opinions. Unfortunately, some of the statements made by Mr. Kiester are factually not accurate.
I do find it a bit ironic or at least amusing that Mr. Kiester feels the need to voice his dissatisfaction with money spent to improve the South Fork Road (County Road 6WX). Mr. Kiester has been one of Park County Public Works Department’s most frequent complainers in recent years regarding the road conditions and needs for improvements as it relates to roads in the upper South Fork.
The 1% Special Purpose tax that was approved by the voters in 2016 included specific infrastructure projects benefiting the City of Cody, City of Powell, Town of Meeteetse and Park County. It is true that the projects administered by Park County were road-and-bridge related. However, funds were also used for street, water, sewer, curb, gutter, sidewalk, lighting, electrical, safety and ADA projects in Cody, Powell and Meeteetse.
All projects were specifically listed on the ballot with the dollars to be allocated clearly identified. Projects selected were based largely on several technical factors as well as public input. Park County was allocated $2.43 million of the total $13.68 million dollar tax ballot initiative.
With the One Cent Special Purpose Tax dollars, Park County was able to replace three bridges and dedicated $773,000 towards South Fork improvements. There has been close accounting by the Public Works Department for all project expenditures. All Park County administered projects were completed within the budget limits approved by the voters.
Mr. Kiester stated that “our 1% fund went to a project that ended up nine months and millions of dollars over budget for a highway that serves a handful of commercial ranches and big dollar outfitters and the road ends up going nowhere.”
It is true that originally the project was programmed to be a one season project to be completed by the end of 2019. Admittedly, trying to get a project of this size completed in one construction season was aggressive. The aggressive programmed schedule was undertaken in an attempt to limit inconvenience for users of the road and neighboring landowners.
Anyone that watched the construction saw a contractor that worked every day possible to complete the work. Unfortunately, unseasonable cold and wet weather in the spring and fall of 2019 resulted in project delays that extended many projects into 2020. Again, $773,000 of One Cent Special Purpose Tax Dollars were spent on this project. Park County’s total commitment of $2.365 million towards the South Fork project (roughly 17% of the total cost) was mostly derived from the County Road Fund and reserves.
Although the total project cost of $14.2 million exceeded the original $12 million estimate, Park County’s commitment has not changed and was locked at $2.365 million per agreements between Park County and the Federal Highway Administration.
Mr. Kiester stated that “the benefit to most of the people of Park County is extremely minimal.” The South Fork Road accesses millions of acres of federal land. This is why the project was widely supported by the Forest Service, Game & Fish Commission, BLM, multiple recreation groups, and the general public. Hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking and ice climbing are just a few of the activities that this roadway supports above and beyond tourism, residential and commercial ranching interests.
The Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) funding is very competitive with only a few projects selected nationally each year. With dwindling revenues and increasing road-bridge demands, Park County Public Works Department aggressively seeks outside funding programs to help complete critical road-bridge related infrastructure improvement projects.
The Willwood Dam bridge replacement project completed in 2016 is a good example of this. This project cost over $5 million dollars of which Park County paid only 9.51%. Contrary to Mr. Kiester’s comments, when the County can pay 10% (Willwood) or 17% (South Fork) on millions of dollars of needed infrastructure improvements, this frees up our County Road Fund dollars and general operating budget for other road-bridge related projects throughout the County. It is important to note that not all road-bridge improvement projects are eligible for state-federal funding programs.
Regarding the 1% general purpose tax proposed on the November 2020 ballot, I ask voters research and educate themselves on the infrastructure and services that are provided by your local and county governments. Are you satisfied with the infrastructure and services we have? Are you willing to accept deteriorating infrastructure and-or a reduction in services as expenses increase and revenues decline? Did your local officials do what they said they would do with the Special Purpose Tax dollars that were voted on back in 2016?
Elections have consequences and that is why your vote (one way or the other) is so important. With hundreds of miles of roads and more than 70 bridges to improve-maintain throughout Park County, the needs are many and the available dollars are few.
Regardless of what happens in November, this office will continue to find ways to creatively fund necessary public infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects to keep our roads and bridges safe while serving the needs of the people of Park County.
(s) brian edwards
Park County Engineer