SWEETWATER COUNTY — With a 3-1 vote, the Sweetwater County Commission approved a resolution allowing for a one-cent specific purpose tax to be placed on the November General Election ballot.
However, the Commission will not have to wait and see if all of the other incorporated cities and towns within Sweetwater County will also approve the resolution. Prior to voting, a lengthy discussion took place. Commissioners Lauren Schoenfeld, Mary Thoman and Randy Wendling voted in favor of the motion, while acting chair Roy Lloyd voted against it. Commission Chairman Jeff Smith was absent from the meeting. The motion approved will allow the tax issue to be placed on the ballot contingent that the City of Green River and City of Rock Springs also approve it. Wamsutter has already approved a resolution in support.
Commissioner Shoenfeld, who was on the specific purpose tax committee, explained that the final number is around $83.5 million after all of the bonding costs were added to the project totals. Prior to the bonding costs being included, the project costs were under $80 million.
“I’m real reluctant to move forward on this until we know were those cities and towns are on it,” Wendling said.
Wendling said last time when the commission took the lead and approved allowing a one-cent general tax to be placed on the ballot in 2021, they were “hung out to dry” when the City of Rock Springs didn’t support it. While Wendling understood the motion could be made on a contingency, he still wasn’t sure that’s the route the Commission should go given what happened with the general purpose tax. Wendling was referring to how the Rock Springs City Council decided not to support the general purpose tax being placed on the 2021 special ballot.
“I don’t know how we would have voted with the general tax had we known Rock Springs was going to bail out on us,” Wendling said.
Schoenfeld said she agreed with Wendling, however in the past the Commission has always approved the resolution first and the cities and towns followed. She said there seems to be a difference thought process taking place between the county and cities.
“I don’t know if the City of Rock Springs will discuss it or address it if we do not move forward today,” Schoenfeld said.
“I struggle with it because when I take a look at, with this being an election year, especially with the City of Rock Springs, knowing how some voted with the general tax could possibly lead into the specific purpose tax.” Wendling said. “It concerns me that they may not pass it. I truly believe there’s probably some Council members that will vote against it because of their possibility as they are thinking are moving forward with their political careers and that type of thing.”
Commissioner Thoman said while she doesn’t believe in additional taxes, she does believe in maintaining the county’s infrastructure. She said this tax is addressing the county’s most urgent infrastructure needs.
“I think we are at a critical point with water, septic, and roads,” Thoman said.
“I think we can be brave and take the step and take the initiative. The cities are going to do what they are going to do. It’s on their backs if they don’t approve it…,” Thoman said. “I think we should move forward and give the cities clear direction.”
Shoenfeld said the committee has had many meetings and a lot of time has been dedicated to this project and she’s ready to move it forward.
Lloyd said he agrees with Wendling on many points saying it’s hard to make a decision until the cities do. Lloyd said he’s been hearing from constituents, who are not tied to the municipalities, that they are not in favor of the tax. While he does support the projects and sees the value in them, he is afraid it may fail like the general tax. If it does fail, he’s not sure if it will pass again in the future.
Wendling asked Commissioner Shoenfeld if she had an idea on whether the cities of Rock Springs and Green River would approve it. Shoenfeld said she has not heard anything negative from any Green River Council member. As for the City of Rock Springs, she thinks it will be a tight vote, but believes it will pass. She said most of the Rock Springs Councilors support the projects, but aren’t sure about the timing of the tax.
After more discussion, Wendling decided he would vote in favor of the motion and leave it up to the taxpayers on whether or not they want to support the specific purpose tax.
The cities and towns have until July 20 to approve or deny a resolution allowing the one-cent specific purpose tax to be placed on the November General Election ballot. The Green River City Council is scheduled to review the resolution tonight. As of noon today, the resolution was not on the Rock Springs City Council’s agenda, but it could be added later.