CHEYENNE – Voters are encouraged by local government officials to once again take advantage of the sixth-penny sales tax after 40 years of success in completing a wide variety of special projects.
Fourteen propositions are featured on the upcoming Nov. 2 election ballot, and focus on public safety, roads, infrastructure and community enhancements. Laramie County residents have the opportunity to approve more than 60 projects worth $130 million.
“Everyone gets to pick what their community looks like going forward by their vote,” said County Commissioner Gunnar Malm.
He and other leaders consider the utilization of the sales tax a success because it gives voters an active voice when it comes to development in Cheyenne and throughout the county.
Historic projects such as the Laramie County Library, Events Center at Archer, expansion of the county jail and renovation of the district court portion of the Laramie County Government Complex would not have been possible without endorsement from voters and the collection of the sixth-penny sales tax.
Every five years, government officials come together to develop a ballot that reflects the needs of the community. Based on historical tax collections and stakeholder input, a budget and list of propositions is created. The funds are only available for capital projects and cannot be distributed toward general government spending, such as salaries.
The sales tax is also only collected until enough money is collected to cover the projects approved by voters. Because there often is a lag between when collections end for one set of projects and the new tax collection can start up, local consumers who wish to save on larger purchases can benefit.
Such a sixth-penny sales tax holiday began Oct. 1 in Laramie County and will continue until April 1, when collection will begin for the projects approved this fall.
“Retailers go back to just collecting 5% for that time period,” said Malm. “So, there’s a 1% savings on all purchases. This time around, it falls throughout the holiday season.”
The sixth-penny sales tax has become necessary due to a decline in state funding. Although projects such as the Greater Cheyenne Greenway were added amenities funded, the sales tax has had an increasing role in preserving smaller communities in the county.
Proposals to support infrastructure repairs and operation in Burns, Pine Bluffs and Albin continue to appear on the ballot and are necessary for their survival.
“We have no other way of getting money to support those systems without the generosity of the voters in the county,” said Burns Town Council Member Judy Johnstone.
Since 2010, there has been a reduction every biennium from the state in funding to local governments. And although Cheyenne and other cities are experiencing the same shortage, there is no tax structure in place to afford even the simplest of projects, such as street, building, water and sewer maintenance.
Malm said this is another success seen through the sixth-penny sales tax initiative, which is giving the opportunity for small communities within the county to thrive.
Cheyenne City Council member Michelle Aldrich said another vital role it has played is in support of public safety operations in the county. Not only are new fire stations on this year’s ballot, but equipment and supplies necessary to serve residents, as well.
The Emergency Management Warning Sirens and Emergency Alert systems and mobile radios to communicate effectively between officers have to be funded through the sales tax.
Aldrich also applauded members of the sixth-penny committee this year for giving public safety projects their own propositions. In 2017, there was considerable pushback after recreation facilities were included with fire stations, leading to the proposition not being passed.
“We wanted to make sure that when people were making a choice, that it was a clear-cut choice based on our past experience with the sixth-penny sales tax ballot and what our voters were asking for,” she said.
And that is the largest advantage of the sales tax, according to Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins. He said the dialogue between community members will always impact the ballot, and there is a sense of accountability.
Every project must be completed with the funds allocated, and voters have to give permission for a new set of propositions to be developed. And since the utilization of the sales tax began, there has never been a break in the five-year cycle.
“Things that are critical for a community to survive and to prosper, we don’t have the budget to do it,” he said. “The sixth-penny sales tax has really been set up to do that for us, and it’s been very successful.”