ROCK SPRINGS — After much discussion, the Rock Springs City Council split a vote on whether or not to approve a resolution allowing a 1 percent General Purpose Sales and Use tax to go on a special ballot in November of 2021.
It all came down to a tie 4-4 vote, which means the motion to approve placing the tax on a special ballot died. Mayor Tim Kaumo and Councilors Tim Savage, Larry Hickerson and Keaton West voted in favor of the motion, while Councilors Brent Bettolo, Rob Zotti, Jeannie Demas and Tim Robinson voted against the motion. Councilor David Halter abstained from voting because he works for the Sweetwater County Communication Center, which would receive funding from this tax.
The proposed initiative would have helped pay for funding public service agencies, such as the ambulance service, the Sweetwater County Combined Communications Center and economic development.
During the petition portion of the meeting, Representative Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, encouraged the Council to take their time when making a decision like this and give the public time to comment on it. He said with the magnitude of this decision, more time is needed.
Stith wanted to clarify that this one cent would only go for general purpose spending and Sweetwater County and other communities are also still considering a special purpose tax. He asked the Council to table making a decision to give residents time to comment.
He said the city had a 15 percent budget decrease and this would generate an additional 26 percent of revenue for the city in one year. He gave a very rough estimate of about $6 million possibly going to the city in one year. Stith said this would be an 18 percent increase to the city’s general fund.
He said K-12 education will probably be seeking a half penny or 1 penny sales tax to help fund education on the state level as well.
He said the last revenue numbers coming into the state were not as bad as expected and felt the city could wait. He said they know they have tough decisions to make.
“I don’t think you need to hit the panic button yet,” Stith said.
“We’ve had these same discussions as well,” Kaumo said.
He said they have been asking state legislators what to do about the decrease in revenue and they told them to go back home and raise taxes to support the communities.
It all comes down to finding a way to continue providing residents with services they depend on. As the city continues to cut the budget, more services go way and the quality of life changes as well, Kaumo said.
Councilor Rob Zotti said he knows the Council has to make a decision by July 15 to meet the deadline in order to get the tax on the ballot in November, but he thinks the city needs to put a hold on this. Zotti said there have been one or two entities that have really pushed this.
Zotti said at first it was at a half penny tax, then a quarter was added for economic development; and then another quarter was added for a full one penny tax.
Zotti said he believes there is a need for additional revenue, but they need to come up with a plan on how to solve the ambulance problem instead of just increasing taxes to pay for it. He said Rock Springs is going to continue to try and come up with an ambulance-service solution.
“We’re going way too fast on this,” Zotti said.
Zotti also had concerns on how the economic development portion of the tax would be spent since the resolution is vague on it. Zotti said he was also concerned about the Sweetwater Economic Development Coalition not even find out about the tax until last week.
“I just don’t like the way this has gone…,” Zotti said.
“I’d have to agree that this came up quickly…,” Kaumo said.
Kaumo said the communities would need to have 50 percent voting in favor of the initiative in order for it to pass.
West agreed with how quickly the process took place. He said they didn’t even receive a copy of the resolution the Sweetwater County Commission passed until 4:30 p.m. today. He said they need to be transparent with the community.
He wanted to know who is going to pay for the special election to take place. He thought it would cost around $100,000, but no one even discussed that. West said they are also still considering a special purpose tax in 2022.
“It’s going to be a tough sale,” West said.
After everything was discussed, a motion was made. With a tie vote killing the resolution, it appears the City of Rock Springs will not be moving forward with a general purpose sales and use tax at this time.