EVANSTON — The Uinta County Commissioners and elected officials in Evanston, Mountain View, Lyman and Bear River have taken the first steps toward putting a county-specific one penny sales tax increase on the primary election ballot next August to let voters decide if they want to implement the tax.
Wyoming law allows for counties to implement an additional 1% sales tax for specific projects. According to data published by the Wyoming Dept. of Revenue Excise Tax Division, as of Oct. 1, 12 of Wyoming’s 23 counties currently make use of the additional optional specific purpose tax. Many local officials and residents believe Uinta County should join them.
At multiple county commission work sessions in recent months, Uinta County Economic Development Chair Brent Hatch has met with commissioners and representatives of all four municipalities located within the county to discuss the optional penny tax and projects that could potentially be funded with the additional revenue.
Project ideas have included some type of event center for athletic and other events in Evanston; new sewer lines in Bear River; upgrades to the Mountain View Town Park or some type of facility for winter events; and street paving, water line work or rodeo grounds work in Lyman. Staff from the Evanston Parks and Recreation District have suggested constructing an aquatic center due to the age and deteriorating condition of the pool at the Evanston Rec Center.
Getting the issue on the ballot is a lengthy process. Specific projects and costs have to be identified because ballot wording must include that information. The county and at least three of the four municipalities in the county must pass resolutions in support of adding the question to the ballot. Elected officials of the entities involved — Uinta County, the City of Evanston and the Towns of Mountain View, Lyman and Bear River — will need to decide if they want to pursue bonding to begin projects right away or wait until the revenues come in and possibly work on projects in stages.
Of course, most importantly, voters will need to pass the measure.
Uinta County Treasurer Terry Brimhall said the additional sales tax could raise approximately $1.7 million annually. Brimhall said the last time the tax was implemented was for work on water treatment projects in both Evanston and the Bridger Valley. In a situation unique to the specific purpose tax, the amount needed for the projects must be included in the ballot measure and once that amount is raised, the tax is removed.
For the water treatment projects, the tax was in place to raise $15 million. It was estimated it would take about 10 years to reach that amount; however, the revenues actually came in within about seven years and the additional tax was stopped, said Brimhall.
In order to be on the ballot in August, specific wording of the question will need to be submitted to Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson by late April, which means the entities involved have a lot of work to do in the next few months to come to an agreement on specific projects and costs. Elected officials will also need to make a determination about how the revenues will be split between the five entities, should the measure pass.
According to Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas, a similar measure that recently passed in Carbon County is simply being split equally between all entities. The last time the tax was in effect in Uinta County, however, revenues were split between the Evanston and Bridger Valley projects with 60% of revenues going to Evanston and 40% to the Bridger Valley.
At a September meeting to explore getting the issue on the ballot, county commissioner Craig Welling said, “I think it’s prudent to look at the projects and populations served and come up with reasonable allocations.”
Howieson-Kallas said it will be important to have projects for all the municipalities for the measure to pass. Hatch agreed, “We have to involve all of them, or it won’t pass.” Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill cautioned that projects need to be selected carefully. “We need to stay within our means and look at revenue drivers,” said O’Neill.
Evanston Parks and Recreation Department Chief Financial Officer Marilee Jackson said she’s in favor of the tax because of a lack of other options to pay for needed projects. Jackson and EPRD Director Scott Ehlers presented the most specific proposal offered at meetings in both September and October due to concerns over the condition of the Rec Center pool. Not only does the pool need extensive work, but if it needs to be closed because of problems it’s a huge loss of revenue for the entire rec district.
“I was born and raised here and live here because of the quality of life,” said Jackson. “Sometimes we lose sight of taking care of the people already here when we get so focused on bringing somebody in to save us. We’re having lots of problems with infrastructure with things that were built from the boom and we have to take care of what we have.”
From the tone of the meetings, the county and all four of the municipalities are on board with pursuing the issue because of a lack of other options. Evanston Mayor Kent Williams said, “To do any of these projects mentioned we have to have the revenue. They’re all worthwhile projects.” Bear River Mayor Troy Nolan agreed. “If we want to move forward and improve the county, it’s what we have to do.”