Casper’s leaders met with several local state lawmakers Thursday and urged the representatives to fight for a variety of measures at the upcoming legislative session, including providing funding for school resource officers, granting municipalities independent taxing authority and improving the state’s sales tax collection and distribution system.
City Manager Carter Napier recalled the shock he experienced this summer when the Department of Revenue announced that Casper had erroneously received about $1.7 million in sales tax distributions because a Sweetwater County vendor mistakenly filed its taxes in Natrona County.
“Having that kind of a call is a punch in the gut.....It’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said, adding that the department initially wanted the money back as soon as possible and provided few answers to the city about how the mistake occurred.
Napier said mistakes of this nature are too common in Wyoming and advised state lawmakers to provide the Department of Revenue with additional tools, such as a more advanced software system, to help catch errors earlier.
Casper officials have since taken a loan from the state that gave the city up to five years to pay back the money, but Napier said it’s unfair that the state and the vendor aren’t held accountable for the mistakes.
“The cities, town or counties shouldn’t be the only ones to bear the burden for providing the appropriate relief,” he said. “When there is skin in the game by more than just one party involved, naturally we believe there will be an incentive (to get it right).”
As for school safety efforts, Napier said he was aware some lawmakers have drafted proposals addressing school security. But he noted that none allot funding to communities to pay for school resource officers.
Although the Natrona County School District and the city of Casper recently agreed to split the cost of hiring 10 more officers within the next three years, Napier said every town in the state can’t afford to pay for more cops to patrol the schools.
“School resource officers probably should be a typical feature of our campuses,” he said. “The state has to be a partner in providing that service.”
Napier also pushed the lawmakers to support direct distribution funding for local governments — or to at least allow cities and towns to tax themselves. Losing state money without gaining taxing authority would be a “pretty difficult challenge to overcome” for municipalities, he said.
Vice Mayor Charlie Powell then spoke out in favor of the state legislature passing a statewide anti-discrimination measure to protect the LGBTQ community. He said Wyoming continues to lose potential new residents and businesses because it has a reputation for being intolerant.
“The Shepard murder continues to haunt us,” he said. “... It’s a cloud that hangs over us.”
The murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay university student who was beaten and left to die on a fence post outside of Laramie in 1998, has become one of the most notorious hate crimes in America’s history. Powell said it was time to make a strong statement against discrimination.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also the smart thing to do,” he said.
After the city’s presentation concluded, Mayor Ray Pacheco thanked the lawmakers for attending the meeting, which was held at the Casper Events Center.
Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, and Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, both told the Star-Tribune that they agree the state’s sales tax system needs to be revised.
“We’ve got a problem,” Scott said.
Sweeney said he thinks the current system treats towns and cities unfairly.
“There needs to be a mechanism where the communities don’t need to pay that back (after an error),” he said.
The legislative session is set to begin in January.