The 1-cent sales tax funds are up for renewal again at the general election in November. I was Mills Town Planner for many years. My experience was that the town had to use a significant portion of the revenue for operating, to pay for police and public works operations, but they used as much as they could for capital improvement projects. In order to make the funds more effective they were used as local match for State Loan and Investment Board grants. The town’s major project was reconstructing almost all the local streets and installing storm sewers. Most of the streets in Mills were paved but had no curbs and drained to the middle, where the stormwater pooled. This meant many residents had stormwater in their yards and houses a lot of the time. Some of the streets were gravel. The town designed a project for storm drainage and street improvements and we obtained our first grant in 1980 for $200,000. That matched $200,000 in 1-cent sales tax and we had a $400,000 project.
We worked on the overall project for fifteen years before we got it done. Of course cost for these improvements skyrocketed during the time of the project because of the cost of oil, asphalt and concrete. We didn’t charge any residents any assessments, we rebuilt all the streets with storm sewer where needed. In the end the town spent $6 million on the project, $3 million 1-cent sales tax money, $3 million state grants.
The town got the streets done first and then used 1-cent sales tax funds and grants for buildings and other capital improvements such as water and sewer lines. Also during this time the town used 1-cent sales tax funds and grants to purchase ambulances and fire trucks, which are expensive. Fire trucks can run $250,000 each. Casper’s aerial ladder truck cost $1 million. The town obtained grants from other sources as well for public improvements, but the idea was using One Percent funds and grants for basic capital improvements.
Mills continues to obtain grants to match 1-cent sales tax funds for capital improvements, and use the funds for operations. I worked with the other local governments in Natrona County and know that they also used and still use the 1-cent sales tax funds for capital improvements. Casper has for years used 1-cent sales tax funds in their water line replacement projects. They have been able to do twice as much work by using grants to match the money they put into the projects. Casper will soon adopt a resolution for 1-cent sales tax projects, based on surveying the public earlier this year, which has fire, streets, police, water and sewer as its top priority projects. Evansville has used 1-cent sales tax and grants on their water, sewer and streets projects over the years, and Bar Nunn does the same.
The state has changed its format from a process of competing statewide for grants, where all local governments used to compete against the other nearly 100 municipalities and 23 counties for grants. Today some of the funds are allocated to the county directly and each jurisdiction proposes projects that are approved through a planning process of all the cities, towns and county. This helps with planning for projects on a county-wide basis.
None of this would have been possible if the voters hadn’t extended the 1-cent sales tax funds every time they came up for renewal. There are few other places you can double your money, and the local jurisdictions have been responsible in their fiduciary duty by matching 1-cent sales tax funds with grant funds.