Development tax petition succeeds

Apr 30, 2020 By Clair McFarland, Staff Writer

A proposed half-percent sales tax for use in economic development will appear on the Fremont County primary election ballot Aug. 18.

A petition drive to place the question before voters was successful after Fremont County Commissioners voted earlier this month not to use their authority to put the proposal before voters.

Without the county board's sanction, the tax option could only qualify for the ballot through a petition amassing 5 percent of the 2018 general election voter turnout. Proponents circulated the petition in recent weeks, often while wearing personal protective equipment due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese's office received the petition earlier this week.

A rough count Thursday morning tallied 904 petition signatures - well over the 726 required.

Freese said "a simple majority vote" at the primary election in August could enact the tax.

Letting voters decide

In the April 7 meeting when commissioners voted against ratifying the ballot measure, Commissioner Jennifer McCarty expressed frustration that it was still under consideration during the economic crisis resulting from coronavirus.

"In the current moment of what's happening with our country, our county, our cities, and everything else, we have people without jobs, and they are wondering where their next meal is," said McCarty.

"Asking them for the (optional 1-percent tax already in place for transportation infrastructure) is more than enough."

But tax proponent and IDEA Inc. executive director Kevin Kershisnik countered, emphasizing voter control over the issue.

"You may think this is the ideal time for a tax. You may think it's the absolute worst time for a tax. Regardless of where you stand on that, we just ask you do one thing: Please consider letting the Fremont County voters decide."

If the tax passes, its first revenue stream would appear about April 1, 2021, one month after its March 1 implementation.

Mayoral support

In municipality votes, Riverton, Hudson, Shoshoni, Pavillion and Lander approved the tax option. Dubois opposed it.

As proposed, the half-percent sales tax increase would earmark 20 percent of its projected $3.2 million annual revenue for Riverton Regional Airport, 10 percent for the WRTA public bus line, and the remaining 70 percent apportioned by population for city and county use, for what proponents have deemed "economic development purposes."

Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal governments would have the option to apply for a portion of the county's funds by special request.

Shared revenue

At a recent meeting of the Fremont County Association of Governments, Kershisnikadvised mayors and government officialsto begin compiling summaries of the projects they would fund with the half-percent money.

Based on recents sales tax receipts, the largest portion of the tax revenue, more than $1 million, would go to Fremont County in general, including the Wind River Indian Reservation, according to published reports.

About $610,000 would go to Riverton annually. Lander is slated to receive roughly $425,000 if the tax is approved.

Almost $55,000 would go to Dubois, about $36,000 to Shoshoni, roughly $25,000 to Hudson, and about $13,000 toPavillion.

Kershisnikalso said there is a possibility for funds to be shared among the municipalities on a case-by-case basis.

-- Staff writer Katie Roenigk contributed to this report.

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