SWEETWATER COUNTY– During Tuesday’s Sweetwater County Commissioners meeting, the commissioners voted 3-2 to set the proposed 6th penny tax amount at $80 million.
Commissioner Wally Johnson moved to set the proposed sixth penny tax at $80 million, meaning the amount that goes onto the ballot in November will not exceed $80 million. Commissioner Roy Lloyd seconded the motion.
Johnson, Lloyd, and Lauren Schoenfeld voted to approve the motion, while Chairman Randy Wendling and Commissioner Jeff Smith voted no.
Both Wendling and Smith were in favor of a 6th penny amount of about $90 million to $100 million.
Previous to the vote, the commissioners discussed how to allocate the money to the different entities. They discussed doing this in proportion to the population of the communities, but also how much benefit the projects will have on the county as a whole.
Johnson said, for example, that Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County benefits the entire community whereas some other projects do not.
“We represent all 44,000 people in Sweetwater County,” Johnson said. “We have to be fair, but we also have to remember we represent everyone.”
Smith noted that a small community like Bairoil pays 22 percent of the county’s tax revenue, so population is not the only thing to consider.
The commissioners said that communities with smaller populations do not generate as much sales tax revenue as other communities, and therefore, it is more difficult for them to fund capital improvement projects.
County Treasurer, Robb Slaughter, said that these small communities have necessary infrastructure projects, but that it is difficult for these communities to fund those projects.
Slaughter said after running some numbers, that he would lean towards $100 million for the 6th penny because of how society has changed over the years. He said when people buy a car, they finance it over 72 months, or six years.
Collecting a 6th penny tax over 72 months would generate an estimated $100 million. Slaughter said he believed the majority of county residents would still pass this. He said the most important thing is to figure out how to present the 6th penny tax to the public.
“It all depends on how it’s packaged,” Slaughter said.
Smith said that the amount of time to pay back the money seems to be more important than the actual dollar amount for the 6th penny.
Each of the commissioners put forth an amount to get the vote started.
Smith said $100 million, Johnson said $80 million, Schoenfeld said $100 million depending on packaging, Lloyd said $85 million, and Wendling said $90 million with some flexibility depending on packaging.
Johnson and Lloyd said they are sticking to numbers around $80 million because they believe the tax will be more likely to pass at that amount.
Now that the cap has been set at $80 million, the entities will have an opportunity to go over their projects and figure out their top priorities. The commissioners will then take into consideration the final priorities and decide how to allocate the proposed amount.
The commissioners will also begin looking at how to market the tax to the public to give it the best chance of passing. Schoenfeld plans to begin looking at marketing strategies at the next meeting.