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County leaders address confusion regarding 1 percent tax

Oct 18, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

With election day less than a month away, county leaders have been working to clear up any confusion residents may feel about the proposed 1 percent sales tax initiative that will appear on ballots Nov. 6.

During a work session last week, Riverton City Councilman Rich Gard addressed a question one of his constituents had asked about the duration of the extra 1 percent tax, which would generate about $7 million annually for road and infrastructure work throughout Fremont County. Gard said the person was under the impression that the tax will remain in effect indefinitely if it is approved.

"This tax (would be) voted for every four years," Gard clarified. "We'll get another chance to either say we do or don't like it. ... It isn't a tax that has to stay, it's a tax they have the opportunity to vote out in four years, or back in."

Mayor Ron Warpness added that the tax would automatically appear on the ballot in four years, whereas this year officials had to seek approval before voters could even consider the question.

"If the public votes it down (in four years) then the next time we want to put it in place we'll have to go through the whole process again," Warpness said.

Other representatives answered questions about the tax at a town hall meeting hosted Oct. 11 by members of Fremont County government. During the meeting, Riverton resident Chuck Lanham asked why officials didn't seek a special use tax to pay for specific road projects. He said the special use method would ensure the money goes where officials say it will."Once it's in the general fund a lot of slopping around goes on," Lanham said. "(I) would like to see some specifics on these things and real planning."

In response, Commissioner Doug Thompson talked about the county's Capital Improvement Maintenance Program, which was formed after officials examined every paved road in the county to determine its condition and priority of maintenance. Thompson said the $3.4 million that would go to Fremont County from the optional 1 percent sales tax would help fund that program.

"Those are trackable expenses," he said. "(The money) won't fall into the general fund and end up building a statue or park somewhere."

Commissioner Travis Becker described a long list of road projects that county staff would like to see completed in the near future. He said the list includes $78 million of work on current streets in Fremont County.

"We do have an idea, and a pretty good idea, where that money needs to go," Becker said.

If a bridge goes out, though, Becker said that project takes priority over previous planning efforts. In an interview after the meeting, Warpness pointed out that special use tax money could not be used to fund those unforeseen, urgent needs, because special use taxes must go toward specifically defined projects.

Becker added that voters would have to leaf through dozens of ballot questions defining each project that would be funded through a special use tax.

"I believe that's one of the main reasons we went to the general sales tax," Becker said. "You probably would have had a 10-page ballot."

Lanham said people would be more confident about the 1 percent tax question if they knew about official plans for road maintenance. County Clerk Julie Freese invited Lanham and all residents to attend local meetings to stay informed.