RS Councilors, Elected Legislators Discuss Budget Shortfalls and More

RS Councilors, Elected Legislators Discuss Budget Shortfalls and More

Senator Tom James, R-Rock Springs, and Senator-Elect John Kolb, R-Rock Springs speak to Rock Springs City Councilors about the state's budget shortfall. RingMeeting photo

ROCK SPRINGS — During an informal meeting today between some Rock Springs City Councilors and Senator Tom James, R-Rock Springs; Senator-Elect John Kolb, R-Rock Springs; and Representative-Elect Chad Banks, D-Rock Springs; the group discussed the state’s budget shortfall and many other topics.

The discussion ranged from ideas around implementing a special purpose tax and solar and wind farm taxes, to looking at cuts to K-12 funding and consolidating school districts. Various other topics were discussed in an effort to gather ideas on how to prepare for the upcoming budget shortfalls.

Special Purpose Tax

Rock Springs Councilor Rob Zotti asked what the special purpose tax could be used for and if the city could use it to pay for ongoing expenditures and payroll expenses. After taking some time to research the statute, Matt McBurnett, Rock Springs Director of Administrative Services, said from what he found, it could be used for general or specific purposes.

Advertisement - Story continues below...

McBurnett said he would need to consult with an attorney on the statute to have it clarified further.

New Taxes

Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo said he wanted to know if any of the local legislators on the phone had heard any conversations about the state implementing a new tax. He said there are times when a state needs a tax to help pay for services.

Rep. Banks said in his observations of the state’s meetings, new taxes are not being discussed. Kolb agreed with Banks, saying he believes the senate is even worse than the house in regards to implementing a tax.

“I ran on no new taxes and I still stand on that position,” Sen. Kolb said.

Sen. Tom James said he would like to see wind and solar farms get taxed appropriately. He said customers that lived outside the state would be charged for using those services. James believes this could help the cities, towns and counties that these solar and wind farms are located in, with funding.

Sen. James said he believes this could make it where no tax would have to be raised because it has the potential to raise a lot of funds. (Sen. James did not provide specifics on what that amount might be.)

Sen. James said he is still working out the details of this proposed bill.

Current Taxes

As it relates to current taxes, Sen. James claims the state is losing a lot of money in property taxes due to the properties not being assessed correctly. Although he didn’t provide an estimated amount, he gave the example of a 5-acre parcel of land being assessed as a 1-acre parcel of land.

“This is happening in Sweetwater as well,” Sen. James said.

School Funding

The group also discussed what some believed was impacting the state’s budget the most, and that was school funding.

“We have to do the best we can with cutting our budgets,” Sen. Kolb said. “K-12 is the issue.”

Sen. Kolb has been attending the Wyoming Joint Appropriations Committee’s virtual meetings and he referred to those budget conversations as “brutal.”

“Everybody’s getting a pretty big cut right now,” Sen. Kolb said. “Only thing left to cut is K-12.”

Sen. Kolb stated that cities, towns and counties’ funding is all interconnected to the schools. If the cities and towns don’t have enough money to keep the roads paved, then that will impact busses getting to the schools.

“I never thought we should go broke to the detriment of education,” Kolb said.

Mayor Kaumo wanted to know specifically what areas of school funding were causing funding issues.

Kolb said the districts have too many school buildings and not enough kids to fill them. He claimed consultants who review the funding model are hired by a committee that has educators on it and that’s why the consultants always say the schools need more funding.

“That’s kind of my understanding of it,” Sen. Kolb said.

Rock Springs Fire Department Chief Jim Wamsley asked why some school districts that were close in location didn’t consolidate. He used Uinta County as an example, but said school districts should only have one district per county.

Sen. Kolb said consolidating districts would save the state money because they could cut administration. He said the districts have models to follow on how many administrators they need per the amount of students they have, but the districts aren’t following that model.

After a nearly two-hour discussion, the group decided to keep each other informed and work together the best they can to try and bring more money to Sweetwater County.