by nathan oster
Streets would be paved, parks improved and infrastructure added around Big Horn County if voters approve a temporary, specific-purpose, sixth-cent tax question that will be on the ballot in Tuesday’s general election.
While it is a countywide issue, with each of the nine incorporated municipalities standing to benefit to the tune of about $24.8 million in projects, it was Greybull and its elected municipal officials who led the initial charge for the sixth-cent tax.
Bob Graham, a member of the Greybull Town Council, attended council town meetings throughout the county earlier this year, trying to educate them on the specific purpose tax and how it could be used to benefit them.
The urgency from Graham is directly tied to concerns about the community swimming pool.
Now four decades old, and having exceeded its anticipated life expectancy long ago, the pool has been limping along in recent years. In fact, it took a community-wide effort to get the pool reopened after school officials voted to shut it down when structural deficiencies were discovered.
If the sixth-cent tax is approved, it would bring a benefit to Greybull of $2.601 million.
Of that total, $2 million would be used for operations and maintenance of the pool for the next 20 years. The remaining amount, $601,000, would represent the bonded amount ($400,000) and the cost of borrowing.
If the school district’s bond issue were to fail, the town would apply the $400,000 toward reconstruction and remodeling of the existing pool and it would seek a $1 million grant through the Wyoming Business Council, according to Mary Keating Scott, of George K. Baum and Company.
A group calling itself the Concerned Citizens for the Betterment and Development of Big Horn County this week launched an effort to educate voters on what’s at stake with respect to the sixth-cent tax.
According to an ad appearing in this issue, the group notes that 80 percent of the total loan amount requested for all nine of the county’s municipalities would be paid by sales and use taxes generated in Greybull, Basin and Lovell.
The group also emphasizes that the three largest communities would be paying back more than $20 million to receive the benefits of $8.3 million in projects.
“That,” according to the group’s ad, “is paying back nearly $3 for every $1 the three towns were to receive.”
Figures released by the Wyoming Department of Revenue support the group’s claim that the three largest municipalities generate the most in terms of sales and use taxes.
According to the Aggregated Sales and Use Tax Distribution Report for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, the fifth-cent, local general-purpose tax generated $1.634 million over a 12-month period.
Proceeds from a sixth-cent tax would closely mirror those of the fifth-cent tax, according to a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Revenue.
For FYI 2012, the fifth-cent sales tax totals, by municipality, were as follows: Lovell, $330,000; Greybull, $258,000; Basin, $179,000; Cowley, $91,000; Byron, $83,000; Burlington, $40,000; Deaver, $24,000; Frannie, $19,000, and Manderson, $15,000. Big Horn County’s share came to $589,000.
The use tax totals, by community, were as follows for FY 2012: Lovell $76,000; Greybull, $59,000; Basin, $41,000; Cowley, $21,000; Byron, $19,000; Burlington, $9,000; Deaver, $5,700; Frannie, $4,400; and Manderson, $3,700. Big Horn County’s share was $136,000.
Graham said in an interview this week that he has heard the arguments against the sixth-cent tax, including the one put forward by the citizen’s group that the three largest communities would be carrying a burden much larger than those carried by the smaller communities.
His response was that, “The people of Manderson, Basin and Burlington, they shop in Greybull too,” he said. “And on the north end, people in Cowley and Deaver, they shop in Lovell.
“Just because these communities don’t have retail stores doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to their share of the tax. This is one county. These projects are going to improve the quality of life for everyone.”
As the ones putting forward the project, the burden of convincing the public of the need for these projects falls upon the elected leaders in the nine municipalities.
In Greybull, Graham has been at the forefront of the effort.
In that role, he’s been one of the people getting the questions.
One question he has received deals with whether the pool would be utilized by the public to the degree that it justifies the investment.
“You can’t go off of per-capita use,” he said. “It’s important that we have assets in our community that make it a viable place to live, not just work and home. You have to have things for people to do. If we vote down the swimming pool because not enough people are going to use it…where do you draw the line?
“The next thing, we’ll be asked to do away with the ballfields, because the Little League uses it only six months of the year, and by 30 or so kids. Or the senior center. Granted, they have Meals on Wheels. They go a great service. But you have to have those kind of things. If you walked in there on a Tuesday and saw 12 people having lunch, do you evaluate a senior center based upon what it costs to provide lunch to those 12 people? We’d have to get rid of the senior center. My point is, where do you stop? Go to the city park. On any given day, you might see two moms with three little kids using the swing set. It costs a lot of money to take care of that park, including $70,000 for the restrooms alones.
“All these things enhance the community…and are what draws people who want to be a part of our community,” he continued. “Not everyone who comes to Wyoming wants to hunt or fish. If you don’t provide a healthy environment – senior centers, parks, ballfields, pools – then the community is going to die.
“It’s either invest in the community now or contribute to the death of it by not voting for the tax.”
Graham also addressed a criticism heard throughout the community that not enough planning went into the project, and that some communities put forward projects that didn’t rise to the level of qualifying as a “need.”
To that charge, Graham said, “I don’t live in those communities, I don’t know what it’s wants and needs are, but I do know this: Manderson, Frannie, Deaver and Burlington are small, small communities. They have no opportunity, no tax base, no way of getting the projects they want without something like a sixth-cent tax, or some kind of funding outside of their communities.”
Graham said that even if they were to obtain grants or loans that required matches, their rate structure would be dramatically impacted.
“That’s why a lot of these projects have been placed on the back burner for all these years,” he said. “Communities were hoping, wishing that something would come along to help them fund them. I firmly believe that every project each town has come up with is a need — not just a want, but a need that would enhance their community and/or make people want to live there.”