From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 24 - September 4, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Tax Supporters Revving Up

by Derek Farr

With snow falling once again on the high country local temperatures are cooling down, but the political season is preparing to heat up and the supporters of one referendum are ready to get their word out.

The “1 Percent Specific Purpose Excise Tax” will appear on Sublette County ballots this November and proponents plan a multimedia push to educate voters about the tax.

If approved, supporters say the countywide, 1 percent sales tax will raise $60 million in an estimated 3.42 years. That money is earmarked for two projects: the Big Piney Recreation Center and the Pinedale Civic center.

As soon as the tax earns $60 million, it will be revoked.

Both the recreation center and the community center are slated to receive $20 million for construction costs, while the remaining $20 million will be divided equally between the two projects and deposited into endowment accounts.

Interest off those accounts will fund the operation and maintenance of the projects in perpetuity.

The tax is calculated to cost each adult in Sublette County 36 cents a day, $10.81 a month and $129.73 a year. The energy industry is expected to pay almost 94 percent of the $60 million.

The referendum’s primary organizer is the Supporters of the Big Piney Marbleton Recreation Center and the Pinedale Community Center Public Action Committee (PAC). The PAC consists of two groups: the Big Piney/Marbleton Recreation Joint Powers Board and the Pinedale Community Center Steering Committee.

On Sept. 11, the PAC is opening up its campaign with newspaper ads, radio ads, a newWeb site and a community conversation luncheon at the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce. Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford said there hasn’t been anything officially filed by opponents of the referendum saying, “It’s probably new enough that there isn’t any organization opposing it.”

Big Piney/Marbleton recreation center board chair and PAC co-chair Angie Smith knows that even without organized opposition, passing a new tax is going to be an uphill battle.

“I wouldn’t say it’s unopposed by any means,” she said. “I think that this is going to be a matter of educating community members and explaining how it works.”

She stressed that the tax is temporary and taxpayers will pay “a very, very nominal amount.”

Based off an estimate of 2007 oil and gas sales, the vast majority of the tax would be paid by the energy industry. The companies would pay the added tax on “all tangible (sales-taxable) items that are delivered in Sublette County,” according to Smith. Those items would include pipes, tools, chemicals, installed well facilities, casings, valves, pads, separators, tanks and office equipment among others.

“It allows the oil industry to put huge dollar amounts toward these projects that normally they wouldn’t be able to donate,” Smith said. “They’re not going to put that kind of money toward a donation, so it allows them the opportunity to provide an awesome facility for both sides of the county for all of us to utilize with a dollar amount they couldn’t have contributed otherwise.”

The PAC is planning a meeting at the Big Piney Senior Center with representatives from oil and gas companies sometime this month.

For its part, EnCana is waiting to learn more about the tax.

“There is a plan in place for the (recreation) board to explain to the industry what their plan is, and I’d be more prepared to comment after that meeting,” EnCana Community Relations Advisor Randy Teeuwen said. “That way I’m commenting in a much more informed perspective.”

Smith said the meeting will most likely be a private correspondence between energy representatives and the PAC but she noted that the PAC will host several public forums on the topic.

She added she is cautiously optimistic the energy companies will support the new tax.

Until the tax is passed, both the civic center and recreation center projects are staggered from a lack of funding, according to Jo Crandall, co-chair of the Pinedale Civic Center Committee. She believes a lack of information is the tax’s biggest obstacle and once voters understand the tax better, they will have a hard time voting against it. Until the Nov. 4 election, Crandall is committed to getting the PAC’s message out.

She’s preparing for a busy couple months.

“It’s a lot of stuff to do,” she said. “We’re just trying to get our ducks herded in one direction.”

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