Towns express desire for 5th penny
Officials from municipalities around the county agree One Percent Sales and Use Tax critical
October 31, 2018
The 5th Penny Tax is coming up for approval by voters on election day. The Sun reached out to many of the municipalities to find out how the tax effects each community.
"In Encampment the 5th penny tax represents about 27 percent of our income for general purposes," Doreen Harvey, Encampment town clerk/treasurer said. "It funds emergency services, police, fire, EMS, parks, recreation, streets and maintenance, and helps to provide funding through service contracts to our local organizations."
Harvey continued, "Also benefiting is the museum, the senior center, library and preschool."
She said the Family Career and Community Leaders of America, Prostart, Encampment Community Choir as well as various events throughout the year are also helped.
"The town events of the Sierra Madre Winter Carnival and our community barbeque and Music in the Park would be affected," Harvey said. "It is a significant portion of our general fund budget and is crucial to the services provided by Encampment."
Harvey reiterated the importance of the 5th penny tax to her community.
"If the tax were to fail, the affect would be devastating to the services in Encampment," Harvey said.
"Municipal funding for our town is a very unpredictable thing," Morgan Irene, mayor of Elk Mountain said. "A few of the biggest variables come from the state of Wyoming 'Local Government Direct Distribution'. Due to the fact that our state budget is largely funded by minerals we have all taken a big hit. With the decline in coal production, and continued reduced natural gas prices it has pinched back tax revenue that we have historically counted on."
Irene said with coal taking a hit in recent years, it has made budgets harder for towns in Wyoming.
"When the coal economy suffered so did the state's sales and use tax," Irene said. "Our state budget contains distributions to local and county entities for them to operate with. Since the state's budget has decreased through the years, so has local funding. The amount of direct distribution is always a variable and could be cut even lower depending on how the state's budget session goes."
He said budget cuts have been inevitable.
"Our Carbon County entities, including the Town of Elk Mountain, has repeatedly cut our budgets to react to our decreased state and mineral royalty funding," Irene said. "There isn't any fat left to trim-not that we had any to begin with."
With budgets of towns having to scale back, he said the 5th penny tax has helped offset the cuts.
One important venue of funding that is vital to our budgets is the 5th penny local option tax," Irene said. "This sales tax creates one of the few bits of funding our towns may function with. When the economy slumps it is noticed with the tax proceeds but these still provide a stable base to plan with."
He said the timing of the 5th penny tax getting passed is especially crucial this go around.
"With the impending wind development, if this tax is re-approved, we will enjoy an extra boost," Irene pointed out. "Since we have been 'making due' with what we have and continue to live within our means, any extra revenue will give relief that may allow a few things to be shored up and properly taken care of."
Irene said the 5th penny tax not getting passed would put tremendous pressure on his community and the other towns in Carbon County.
"I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to function as a municipality with the current funding model," Irene said. "Not only do we use these funds to exist independently but these are also used together with other towns and the county to provide vital services such as fire, EMS and sanitation,"
Irene said the Carbon County Council of Governments has helped the different communities come together and try to help voters understand how essential the 5th penny tax is to Carbon County.
"Our county has a unique and effective organization that has gone far to stretch the limited funding even further. The Carbon County Council of Governments meets regularly to maintain good relationships between entities," Irene said. "The issues that are addressed usually have a component of funding included that needs sorted out. Our-unique-to-Carbon-County team effort has gone far to solve many issues and the local option 5th penny tax helps these efforts."
Irene said he cannot stress enough how important the 5th penny tax is to the people of the county.
"I urge the people of Carbon County to use this information to make their decision when they vote on the local option 5th penny tax," Irene said. "The people of Carbon County have always been very supportive in the past. This funding is as important today, or possibly more important with the increased cost of operating, as it was when it was first put on the ballot many years ago."
He said without the 5th penny tax being re-approved town budgets could really suffer.
"So many hard budget decisions have been made to cut to get us to where we are now. Another big cut like the loss of this funding would be harmful and hard to make work," Irene said. "I respect the voter's opinions and appreciate their support with this vital funding we depend on."
"The 5th penny tax has allowed the Town of Hanna to pay all utilities and insurance for the Hanna Library as well as all the Hanna Basin Museum buildings," Ann Calvert, Hanna town clerk said. "It has allowed for the Town of Hanna to provide insurance and fuel for the 'Senior Bus' which is for all Hanna residents who cannot drive or who do not have transportation to the Post Office, grocery store and bank."
Calvert said the tax has helped keep an education center open for preschool children.
"The 5th Penny Tax has allowed the town of Hanna to allocate money to the Wee Folks Place Preschool for at least the last 8 years," Calvert said. "This little school is very important not only to Hanna, but also Medicine Bow and Elk Mountain, due to the fact it is the only preschool in the area."
Calvert said another way the tax helped the town that is located on the high desert land of north Carbon County is helping control the wildlife that preys on domestic animals of the town.
"Predator Management has been another service afforded by the 5th Penny Tax," Calvert said. "This helps to keep the number of fox and coyote out of town in protection of our pets."
Calvert said the tax is helping with the closure of the Hanna landfill.
"With the High County Joint Powers Board having to close the landfill, the 5th penny has made it possible for the town to be capable of setting some funds aside in anticipation of the costs going up for residents," Calvert said. "Of course it is also used for street maintenance and operations."
"The Town of Medicine Bow could not operate without the local option tax," Karen Heath, Medicine Bow town clerk said. "It pays for our fire department, maintenance of equipment and streets, our water treatment plant, museum and many other things."
Heath said it could hurt the town's ability to provide services that are already stretched by budget cuts.
"We would have to cut our personnel, and we are already at the minimum," Heath said. "We would have no fire service and the streets would not be plowed in the winter time. It is a critical tax to keep offering basic services and I'm sure the other communities in Carbon County are in the same boat."
"The 5th Penny Sales & Use Tax provides approximately $2 million annually to the City of Rawlins' general fund," Marla Brown, Rawlins City Clerk said. "State budget cuts over the years to municipalities make this revenue stream essential in providing general fund services to our citizens."
Brown said the tax not being approved would cause serious hardship for the city of Rawlins.
"The loss of these revenues would result in a dramatic cut in services and approximately one third of full time employees paid through the General Fund, which includes the police, fire, streets, landfill, cemetery, parks, City Hall and community development."
"We usually do not receive enough from the 5th penny to earmark it for any particular project but if/and/or when it passes this time around we would like very much to install a wind generator at the town sewage lagoons to run the air pump for our bio domes," Leroy Stephenson, Riverside mayor said. "This pump provides the necessary aeration to keep our biologic processes healthy and active through the winter months. The electric costs have been a bit problematic so that we have cut back the operation to alternating eight hour shifts and it would be much better to run it 24/7. Monies collected beyond the cost of the generator would be used in our day-to-day operations."
Ed Glode, mayor of Saratoga, said sales taxes are his favorite type of tax because they are paid by all, including people who are out of state.
"So the foundation of our sales tax in this state is four percent which gets collected, and then distributed back to counties and municipalities," Glode said. "The 5th penny tax came in as the local option tax and I don't remember the last time we didn't have it."
He said Saratoga and other towns use the monies from the 5th penny tax for general fund expenses.
"I think it is smart for voters to familiarize and educate themselves with how the different taxes work,"Glode said. "If we don't have the sales taxes, then we might have state income tax, or other taxes that might be ugly and complicated. Sales taxes are simple and have proven to work over the years."
Susie Cox, Saratoga Town Clerk echoed the importance of the 5th penny sales tax.
"In November 2014 the 5th Penny Tax was renewed, Saratoga's projects were to improve streets, make capital improvements, infrastructure needs and operating expenses. The projects discussed this year have been street maintenance, public works, police department, facility maintenance and capital equipment," Cox said. "Additionally, unlike our enterprise department fund accounts the 5th Penny Tax places a greater focus on day-to-day operating needs associated with streets, police, fire, 911 emergency support, parks, and community programs."
She said the tax is important to towns because the state funding doesn't cover all services needed to keep a town running.
"State funding has readily been available for water and sewer improvements, maintenance and repair projects, however street improvements, general services and maintenance has always been left up to the cities and towns," Cox said. "The state legislature's joint commissions are currently considering slashing its direct aid to municipalities by $105 million. That could mean that towns would lose funding with no real replacement coming from the state."
She said town administrators in Carbon County know the passing of the 5th Penny Tax is essential.
"Town mayors, clerks and treasurers understand how critical it is to have the 5th Penny Tax and we know it adds crucial funding to our shrinking budgets," Cox said. "It provides additional funding that makes the difference between being able to provide the services that our residents have become accustomed to or having to cut or reduce those services."
Cox concurred with Glode on how the 5th Penny Tax is paid by many that are going through Carbon County.
"If you are a local resident, tourist, visitor, seasonal or permanent, it's a tax that everyone pays equally and makes possible the many things we all equally enjoy and take advantage of," Cox said. "It helps us to provide basic services, great parks, a swimming pool, 911 services, street maintenance with the addition of really good snow plowing."
She is hopeful the residents of Saratoga and Carbon County will pass the tax again.
"I believe our Saratoga and Carbon County residents know and understand the importance of the additional one percent tax that provides a valuable addition to our budgets each year," Cox said.
"The Town of Sinclair would like to express the importance of renewing the 5th Penny Tax and ask all voters to please vote 'yes' in November," Michelle Serres, mayor of Sinclair said. "This tax has generated money for the municipalities in Carbon County for 41 years. The 5th penny one percent sales and use tax funds vital projects for all communities in Carbon County."
Serres explained how the tax has helped the town of Sinclair.
"The Town of Sinclair has used this important tax to fund improvements to the historic town buildings, maintenance to our streets, parks and much more," Serres said. "A few examples of projects that have been funded form this 5th Penny Tax are: street sweeper and sewer camera and the replacement of several windows for the town."
She said the tax generates funds from not only residents but also people coming through the county.
"This tax is paid for by everyone that travels through Carbon County," Serres said. "Approximately one third of the money generated from this tax is from non-residents to the communities in Carbon County and this is a great way to fund vital projects and services to the residents of Carbon County."
"Taxes are a vital source of revenue for municipal and county governments to enable us to fund essential services and infrastructure for our citizens," Gwynn Bartlett, Carbon County Clerk said. "The 5th Penny Tax in Carbon County assists the county and its ten municipalities with financing government and public projects as well as making the business environment in the country conducive for economic growth."
Bartlett pointed out there were many services that the 5th Penny Tax helped fund.
"The money citizens pay in the form of this tax goes to many places including support of common services such as police, fire, senior services, libraries, and more," Bartlett said. "Citizens must understand that paying taxes is meant to be more than just a "money grab" from government but rather used to maintain and hopefully raise the standard of living."
The 5th Penny Tax is on the ballot for renewal on Nov. 6.
Categorically, all the administrators in the municipalities who interviewed with the Sun, hope the residents of Carbon County will vote the tax in. Given the services that could be lost in each town if the tax isn't passed, it is understandable why all want to the tax to stay.