Enterprise pitches quarter cent tax to commissioners

Colin Tiernan colin@glenrockind.com

The Enterprise, an economic development organization in Converse County, is exploring the feasibility of a ¼ cent sales tax to fund their operations and other related projects.
“The main goal would be to fund The Enterprise without coming to the city and county for Aid to Others money,” The Enterprise Chairman Tim Pexton said. “The purpose would be for economic development, through The Enterprise.”
In order to find its way onto the ballot, the tax would need approval from three of Converse County’s four municipalities and the county commissioners. If the governments approve of it, then voters would be able to approve or shoot down the proposal in an election.
Pexton told the commission that The Enterprise’s financial situation is unsustainable, and the organization simply needs more money.
“We don’t get enough ­­– you guys are very generous and we appreciate that – but it’s still not enough to pay for our budget for the year, and we’ve gone into our reserves every year, and of course that can’t go on forever,” Pexton said. “We’re looking at this as a long-term funding mechanism.”
The Enterprise (an umbrella group based in Douglas that includes the former CANDO and Douglas chamber operations, among others) pitched the sales tax idea to the commission Dec. 17, explaining the advantages to the communities in the county if it were to go through. Goshen County already has a ¼ cent tax in place for economic development, they noted.
In a non-boom economy, the tax would bring in about $100,000 per month, The Enterprise Executive Director Cindy Porter said. That figure would more than double The Enterprise’s current budget and allow them to hire one or two more staff.
Porter posed the idea that the tax could be used for maintenance costs at a new Douglas rec center if it becomes a reality, which could allow the rec center to waive membership fees.
She also said the tax could be used to help fund a potential river park, a public art fund, business recruitment, special projects and other economic development ideas throughout the county.
Converse County Commissioner Mike Colling asked about the costs to taxpayers if the ¼ cent tax is implemented. One estimate suggested that the average Converse County resident would pay an additional $25 per year in taxes.
“A $40,000 truck is going to cost you an extra $100,” Converse County Commission Chairman Rick Grant summarized.
The Enterprise Board member  Karl Hertz asked the commissioners for their thoughts on the idea and for advice on how to proceed.
“I think you wait and see what happens with legislation this year,” Grant recommended. “After this year, I think we’ll have a better idea of what’s actually going to happen.”
Grant also explained that the earliest the tax could hit the ballot would be a 2019 special election, but suggested that it would be a bad idea to put a ¼ cent tax on the same ballot as a new rec center in Douglas and a remodeled one in Glenrock, which means the tax would be more likely to appear on the 2020 primary or general ballot.
“The thing that’s tricky is none of us know what’s going to happen in three months when the legislature’s done tinkering with the sales tax,” Converse County Commissioner Jim Willox said, “because there are proposals to go to 3.5 percent or 4.5 percent, depending on which one you want to look at.”
With the possibility of changes to Wyoming’s taxing methods, The Enterprise may want to sit back and let things play out before pressing for a ¼ cent tax, the commissioners offered.
Converse County Clerk Lucile Taylor also emphasized that with taxing issues, it’s critical that the public be thoroughly informed and educated about the proposal before voting on it.
Willox emphasized that he likes letting voters say yea or nay to issues like these, even if the county can implement it without a vote. “Letting people decide if they want to tax themselves, that’s the highest form of democracy,” he said.
Enterprise representatives nodded, but Hertz worried that if they wait for 2020, it may be too late. “We should be about out of money at that point,” he said. “Our expenses always exceed our revenue, always. It can’t continue this way.” 


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