In a contest even tighter than its 2008 counterpart, voters said "no" Tuesday to a proposed 1-cent special purpose sales tax that would have funded a new public library facility in downtown Casper.
Library tax opponents outvoted pro-special purpose sales tax voters by 588 votes -- an almost 2 percent margin. Unofficial final tallies showed 16,250 votes against the library tax and 15,662 votes for it.
The 1-cent sales tax would have temporarily increased Natrona County's sales tax to a total of 6 cents on every dollar. Prescriptions, gasoline and food would have been exempt from the statutorily temporary tax, which, according to Wyoming law regulating special purpose sales taxes, would have dissolved after the project's $29.7 million was raised.
A similar special purpose sales tax ballot measure failed in 2008, when a proposed 96,000-square-foot, $43 million facility was voted down in the general election. This year's library proposal was substantially smaller and less expensive than 2008's. At $29.7 million, the leaner price tag for the proposed 82,740-square-foot building was thanks in part to private donations to the Natrona County Public Library Foundation that purchased the proposed new library's 5.4-acre riverside lot.
About 1,500 votes kept the library 1-cent sales tax measure from success in 2008. Tuesday's margin was much narrower; fewer than 600 votes determined the library's defeat.
A recurring hurdle for library officials while publicizing the library initiative was a widespread belief that the statutorily temporary sales tax would, somehow, not be temporary.
“People are concerned that the tax will not go away, and that, somehow, politicians will extend it in some way,” library Director Bill Nelson said recently. “It will go away.”
Public concern also revolved around whether the $4.5 million sinking fund built into the library's $29.7 million total would be enough to cover the estimated $550,000 in annual operating costs for the new facility.
Currently serving a population more than twice as large as it was originally designed to accommodate, the Natrona County Public Library is cramped in its 32,742 square-foot building, supporters say. Overcrowded reading rooms and children's story times and shelves too high or too low for some library users' reach are just some of the challenges new-library supporters reiterated while pushing for the ballot measure throughout election season.
All six Natrona County municipalities voted unanimously this summer to approve the proposed tax's appearance on the general election ballot.
A pro-library political action committee launched an extensive campaign in August to promote its "1-cent x 2 years" motto. Yard signs, billboards, mailings and flashing digital signs decorated Natrona County in the months leading to the Election Day decision. The PAC raised more than $75,000 in private contributions, including at least $34,000 from the Library Foundation. The proposed new library would have been nearly three times bigger than the current facility.