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Small Towns, State Funds

William "Rocky" Ross, a maintenance worker for the town of Kaycee, collects trash from a local business in March. The Joint Revenue Interim Committee is meeting next week to discuss a bill granting cities and towns more control over taxation. 

ROCK SPRINGS — Members of the Joint Revenue Interim Committee will meet next week to discuss a bill to give cities and towns more control over taxation. The proposed measure would allow municipalities to put taxes before voters to go to a general revenue fund, a specific purpose or economic development.

Sen. John Hastert, D-Green River, said the proposed municipal tax is a good concept because it would give communities more taxing authority.

Proposed taxes would go to a vote before the people who would then decide whether to authorize the imposition of an additional tax, he said.

The committee has been charged to look at two facets. The first is to see if it can give local governments more flexibility regarding its revenues, Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, told the Rocket-Miner. The committee co-chairman said there is an odd situation in Wyoming where any local optional sales tax has to be done through the county, whereas most states have an option where cities can do that on their own.

The second aspect is that the state has been distributing $105 million to local governments over the last four fiscal years. The Wyoming Management Council stated that Wyoming has been using rainy-day money to fund the $105 million, “and we need to come up with an alternate way to raise revenue,” Madden said.

Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, said there has also been talk during the past legislative session that the direct distribution will be eliminated with the amount being appropriated to K-12 education funding needs.

“With a possible $400 million shortfall being estimated for ‘19-20 education budget, the Legislature most likely will tap the direct distribution amount, leaving our cities, towns and counties without the $105 million that they have grown accustomed too,” he added. “With that in mind, our committee was assigned the task of looking at possible ways to raise revenues on the local level as an option if desired and approved by the local voters.”

Peterson said another thing to worry about is the state’s dependency on the mineral industry, which pays for 70 percent of the services it receives.

“These revenues have been enjoyed but do not provide a stable source of income for sustained budgets for our governments in Wyoming,” he said. “With that concern in mind, our committee will explore the optional local tax as a way to shore up our local government revenues and provide a more stable source of funding.”

Rock Springs Mayor Carl Demshar said he is not sure what the proposal could mean for the sixth-penny tax in the area.

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Peterson said the committee will look at a variety of things at the meeting.

“Some of the items that will have to be ironed out would be how the local taxes may affect other revenue streams,” he said. “Another area would be to discuss how these taxes might be for specific purpose projects or not and finally to what amount or limits could an optional tax be levied.”

The committee will meet Sept. 20-21 at the Hampton Inn at 85 U.S. Highway 16 E. in Buffalo. After the discussion, the committee will send the bill with changes to Legislative Service Office attorneys, who will work on it until the November meeting in Cheyenne.

“Nothing will be acted on until November,” Madden said. “The vote would be whether we should send it to the overall legislative body in 2019 to enact it into statute.”

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