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Editorial board: Council wise to reverse course, fund nonprofits with 1-cent revenue

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One Cent Funding

James Gehres, a security guard with Allied Universal, does his rounds at the Natrona County Library on July 7 in Casper. The library hopes to use 1-cent grant funding to hire a second security guard.

In a town where residents are decidedly skeptical of taxes, voters have approved 1-cent funding for more than three decades. There’s good reason. The fifth penny sale tax had paid for a host of projects and services in Natrona County. You’ve probably spotted fire engines and police cars around Casper emblazoned with the words “paid for with 1-cent funds.” Or you’ve been in buildings constructed with 1-cent revenue, such as the Hall of Justice or the Casper Events Center. The 1-cent pays for pipes that deliver our water, vehicles that respond to emergencies and buildings where we go to exercise or have fun.

Traditionally, 1-cent funding is also used to pay for grants that help local nonprofits. The Natrona County Public Library, Central Wyoming Hospice and Youth Crisis Center are just a few of the groups that provide services in our community thanks, in part, to the 1-cent. The funding is not insignificant. In the most recent cycle, there was $3 million set aside for community funding.

Last month, the Casper City Council heard a proposal from city officials to do away with the program. Instead, the money would have been split on a smaller set of services and groups. The bulk, for example, would have paid for admission subsidies at public pools in Casper. Nonprofits that have long relied on the funding as an essential part of their budgets were angered by the move, both because it would hurt their ability to provide local services and because city officials had avoided sharing their plans with those who would be affected.

Thankfully, the council on Tuesday indicated it would reverse course and keep the community funding program. That’s good news for a couple of reasons. First, it means essential nonprofits will have the means they need to do important work in our community. But just as importantly, the decision to keep nonprofits intact will likely improve the 1-cent’s chances at the ballot box this fall. We view the 1-cent tax as a critical quality of life measure. And it’s more likely to earn the community’s support if it’s helping community groups thrive.

While the city appears to have belatedly gotten things right, we are disappointed with the approach that city officials took as they mulled whether to do away with the nonprofit funding. The city did not communicate to the groups that a change was in the works, and apparently that decision was intentional. When asked about the lack of communication, City Manager Carter Napier said he didn’t have any ill will toward the nonprofits, “but in the same token, I’m not going to load the council up with a bunch of haters because I’m going to call them up and say, ‘Hey, you’re not being funded, you should come to the council and make your position known.’”

Napier has done an admirable job guiding the city through a rough few years. But he’s wrong. He should have contacted the nonprofits and told them exactly what was planned. That way, they’d have the opportunity to, in his words, come to the council and make their position known. That’s an important part of the public process. But more to the point, if you want people to have trust in the 1-cent program, you need to be as transparent as possible about it. That means sharing all of its successes, but also being upfront when changes may be necessary.

Critics of the 1-cent tax may point to this episode as a reason not to support its renewal in November. We disagree. The response of the nonprofits demonstrates just how important 1-cent funding is for so many of the services that support our community. Whether it’s the library or the fire department, we use services supported by the 1-cent all the time. It’s not an exaggeration to say our community would look and operate very differently without it. The city ultimately got things right on nonprofit funding. We hope voters do the same in November by adopting the 1-cent tax.

The opinions of the Casper Star-Tribune Editorial Board represent the views of a majority of its members. Not all members will necessarily agree on all parts of a published editorial.

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