Local residents are getting a tax break next year: Starting April 1, Park County’s sales tax rate will drop from 5 percent back down to 4 percent.
County voters agreed in 2016 to temporarily raise the county’s rate in order to collect $13.68 million for a specific list of projects. Park County Treasurer Barb Poley initially feared it might take until October 2019 to raise the money, but it now appears that sum will be raised by March, “which is really awesome,” she said.
“We’re excited to cease collection of the 1 cent sales tax,” Powell Mayor John Wetzel said at Monday’s council meeting. “Pretty exciting how fast it’s been able to be collected.”
At Tuesday’s Park County Commission meeting, Commissioner Jake Fulkerson similarly described himself as “tickled” with how the tax has worked out.
“I have to say that I didn’t hear a thing from anybody when this thing went on, and I bet I don’t hear a thing from anybody when it goes off,” Fulkerson said.
However, Commissioner Tim French, who campaigned against the tax, suggested the quicker-than-expected payoff of the tax showed it had a bigger impact on local residents than supporters had suggested.
“Everybody ... is shocked that all the money’s in way ahead of projections. Yeah, that’s because all the families are paying a lot more than $60 [per year],” said French. (The number cited by tax advocates was actually $80 per household.)
It’s difficult to accurately calculate the average cost per family, in part because many taxes are paid by tourists or businesses. Poley’s guess that the tax would last until October 2019 was very conservative — based on the assumption that local sales would decline; in actuality, sales have grown since 2016.
County commissioners and council members in Powell, Cody and Meeteetse all recently passed resolutions that officially declare an April 1 end date for the extra cent of tax.
The local governments had to take action because the Wyoming Department of Revenue must notify vendors of changes to the tax rate well in advance. Additionally, sales tax rates can only be changed at the start of a quarter (Jan. 1, April 1, July 1 or Oct. 1). Had county officials waited another quarter and left the tax in place through June, taxpayers might have paid an extra $1.5 million.
“I didn’t want to go another three months and into the busy season,” Poley said, adding, “that doesn’t look good to the public.”
Many of the projects that voters approved are underway or even completed.
The City of Powell recently awarded a $2.91 million contract to widen and reconstruct Absaroka Street.
Wilson Brothers Construction is “going to work on it in the spring or when we get spring weather, whichever comes first, I guess,” said Powell City Councilman Scott Mangold. “But we’re all moving forward with that project.”
The total project is expected to cost around $4.25 million.
The Town of Meeteetse, meanwhile, plans to seek bids in May on a $1.5 million upgrade to its outdated sewer collection system as part of its $2 million share of the funding. The town previously completed some water and sewer upgrades and has plans for more work in the coming years, said Mayor Bill Yetter.
“We appreciate this opportunity to get our infrastructure caught up to speed — and look forward to doing this [again] in the future,” Yetter said.
“This 1 cent tax is really important to the other two cities [Powell and Cody], but this was really a big deal in Meeteetse,” added Commissioner Fulkerson. “I was really glad to see that come there. There were zero options — they had no other options — and that is a big part of their infrastructure. It’s really neat to see the 1 cent tax help them out.”
Park County is completing four projects for roughly $2.43 million.
Work just wrapped up on a new bridge on the Lower South Fork (Road 6QS). Park County Engineer Brian Edwards said another (smaller) South Fork area bridge and a box culvert near Garland will be replaced in early 2019, before the irrigation season starts.
The county is also using sales tax money and some federal dollars to upgrade the South Fork Road between the Shoshone National Forest boundary and the end of the road, at Cabin Creek. That work is set to start in April and run through October.
“Everything’s going according to schedule and the projects have gone well,” Edwards said.
Finally, the City of Cody is working through $5 million worth of projects that include upgrading sewer lagoons, adding wheelchair ramps and cracking and chip sealing city streets.
Of the $13.68 million tax approved by voters, nearly $12.17 million had been collected through November, according to county figures. If sales from now through March stay in line with last year’s figures, a total of just over $14 million will be collected — or about $340,000 more than what taxpayers approved.
Whatever money comes in above the $13.68 million threshold will be set aside for one year. After that, the local governments “will be responsible for using those funds for those projects [that appeared on the ballot] only,” Poley said. “They cannot throw them into the general funds or whatever.”