Future of 6th penny tax is uncertain for county
April 8, 2020
As financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to escalate, the future of a sixth penny improvement tax ballot in November is uncertain.
Speaking during the Sweetwater County commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld said representatives from Rock Springs and the Sweetwater County Events Complex believe work on the ballot initiative should stop and local governments should wait until the pandemic passes before revisiting the initiative. Schoenfeld said she received a letter from Rock Springs claiming the city’s government intends to withdraw its projects from the initiative.
She said the other municipalities, including Green River, have opted to take a wait-and-see approach, deciding to wait a month before making a decision to move forward or not. This approach means governments are pushing against the deadline to start a ballot initiative.
“We only have about a month to wait,” Schoenfeld said.
With Rock Springs threatening to pull its projects from the initiative come concerns of if the measure would pass without support from the city’s voters.
“Without Rock Springs, this thing isn’t going to fly,” Commissioner Wally Johnson said.
Commissioner Jeffery Smith agrees with Johnson, but believes the commissioners and other entities involved owe the chance for a final say to the county’s voters. He also said he isn’t concerned with how a ballot initiative’s defeat would look and said it shouldn’t fall apart because some believe the initiative would fail.
“It could fall flat on its face and that’s OK,” he said.
For Smith, the initiative and the influx of funding it could bring would result in another benefit: keeping county residents employed during an economic downturn.
Though, a sustained downturn will impact how long it would take for the approximately $80 million tax bond to be paid off.
Sweetwater County Treasurer Robb Slaughter cautioned the commissioners that sales tax revenue is projected to decrease significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe we’re going to see a much deeper discount on our sales tax,” Slaughter said.
While sales tax for March is expected to be similar to normal receipts, subsequent months are projected to see declines. An estimate provided by Slaughter suggests the county would be able to pay off the tax in 76 months, as opposed to the previous estimate of 57 months.
In addressing what would happen if Rock Springs did pull out of the ballot initiative, Deputy Sweetwater County Attorney John DeLeon said the process could continue without Rock Springs so long as a two-thirds majority of entities involved in the initiative approved resolutions to place the tax question on the ballot. If that happened, it would move forward without Rock Springs’ projects and the total tax amount would decrease by more than $30 million.
The commissioners decided to wait a month to see if the situation would improve and to determine if Rock Springs intends to follow through with pulling out of the ballot initiative.