By 2 to 1 margin, sixth-cent proposal goes down

by nathan oster

Big Horn County voters  in Tuesday’s general election soundly rejected a proposed sixth-cent, special purpose sales and use tax that, among other things, would have funded the operation and maintenance costs of a new swimming pool in Greybull.

The final tally showed 3,486 votes, or 67 percent of the total ballots cast, in the “against” column, and just 1,666 votes, or 33 percent, in the “for” column.

A closer look at the final tally shows that every one of the county’s 13 voting precincts rejected the proposed tax. While the vote counts were close in the smaller communities, the three largest ones, including but to a lesser extent Greybull, were solidly opposed.

In Lovell, 1,192 votes were cast against it, only 278 in favor.

In Basin, it was defeated 505-239.

And in Greybull, there was a margin of nearly 200 votes, with 626 voting against the proposed tax, 430 in favor of it.

The defeat of both the sixth-cent tax and the school district’s bond issue cast a cloud over the future of the Greybull swimming pool.  For seven months in 2010, the four-decade-old pool had to be shut down due to concerns about its structural integrity.  After a “band-aid” of a fix was applied, it reopened — and since that time, has been limping along, getting funding from both the town and the school district to help with operations and maintenance costs.

It was the supporters of the swimming in Greybull who developed the sixth-cent tax and made the pitch to community leaders around the county, who all got on board by identifying potential projects that could be funded with the sixth penny.

All totaled, the price tag of all the projects put forth was $24.8 million.

“My reaction is, it’s too bad,” said Bob Graham, a member of the Greybull Town Council and the swimming pool committee.  It was Graham who made the rounds earlier this year, trying to convince the municipalities to support the sixth-cent tax.

“I think we put something together to try to enhance our community, and whether you think it’s economic development or not, a lot of kids who right now are in college or the work force, who were part of our community in the last 40 years, got their first jobs as lifeguards in that pool.

“I think the pool is going to be sorely missed.”

Graham suggested that with voters so soundly rejecting a mechanism that would have funded pool operations and maintenance for the next two decades, it won’t be a given that the council, in its next budget cycle, recommits another $30,000 to the pool, as it has done the last couple of years.

“I can almost bet that the council won’t budget $30,000 for the pool,” he said. “Simply because it will be a waste of $30,000 because the pool is going to close anyway.  Without the sixth cent, we won’t even be able to repair the one we’ve got.  It’s inevitable, I think.  It would be throwing good money at a bad situation.  The pool isn’t going to survive.”

Graham said he doesn’t have a sense whether pool supporters might rally again in two or four years in an attempt to convince voters of the need to fund the construction, operation and maintenance of a pool.

“I don’t see myself being part of it,” he said. “It’ll probably take until next summer for the pool to die. Then it’ll be missed, and someone will probably want to start (the campaign) again. But my political career is short lived. I have two more years (on the council) and then I’m done. So it’ll be someone else’s fight … and I wish them all the luck in the world.”

Graham said Greybull isn’t the only community that loses with the measure’s defeat.

“Those smaller communities that needed the rest of the county’s help for their water and sewer projects, I don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said. “They have no hope. They can’t raise their rates high enough to do the needed upgrades.  I don’t know how they’re going to get them done.”