From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 32 - October 30, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Understand ballot’s ‘special taxes’

by Joy Ufford

As the political rhetoric picks up before next Tuesday, confusion about the two special taxes on Sublette County’s ballot could occur.

While both are “percentages,” they each have different funding purposes and project designations. Each is considered to be important issues within the county that will shape or influence, in one way or another, the county’s appeal, economy and character.

Both have been widely discussed and debated and both are supported and criticized to varying degrees.

The county lodging tax, in effect the last eight years, is added to lodging sales. The county sales and use tax would be a new 1-percent sales tax paid by everyone spending money in the county.

However, to add to the rhetoric, the county sales tax (also explained on the ballot and in discussion as a “special purpose” tax) is being referred to interchangeably as the “one-cent” tax and the “1-percent” tax – two different-sounding names basically meaning the same thing.

Lodging tax

The lodging tax is one rarely noticed by residents (except perhaps for those temporarily living in hotel rooms or other local lodging for less than a month). Locals likely notice it as an additional charge on the total bill when they rent a room out of town.

The ballot describes this tax as being implemented for a four-year term. It is an additional 3 percent added to the sales price paid for Sublette County lodging or campground spaces for less than 30 days.

The purpose locally, as seen in other western cities and counties depending on tourism dollars, is mainly to help fund the Sublette County Joint Tourism Board and the Sublette County Visitor Center. Ninety-percent of the lodging tax revenue is designated for travel and tourism promotion. The remaining 10 percent is directed to the county and the municipalities of Pinedale, Big Piney and Marbleton for General Fund purposes.

The Tourism Board explains the lodging tax thus: “The use of any funds collected by a lodging tax is regulated by state statute which says it ‘shall be used to promote travel and tourism within the county, city or town imposing the tax. Expenditures for travel and tourism promotion shall be limited to promotional materials, television and radio advertising, printed advertising, promotion of tours and other specific tourism related objectives, provided that none of these funds shall be spent for capital construction or improvements.’”

In the last eight years, the Tourism Board has administered more than $933,000 in lodging-tax collections. Of that, about $195,000 was paid to the Sublette County Chamber for Visitor Center expenses such as staff, utilities, equipment and maintenance.

Also, the lodging tax has helped fund about $88,000’ worth of local-event promotion to draw out-of-town visitors here for everything from the county fair to art auctions. Many national media and publications are targeted for ads to attract visitors to Wyoming and Sublette County.

Specific purpose/Sales & use tax

Far more controversial than the lodging tax and the subject of battles both verbal and written, the specific-purpose (sales & use) one-cent or 1-percent tax does not have a specific time length.

Rather, it has a specific financial goal – to raise $60 million for the planning, construction, furnishing and operations of two new projects. Each is estimated at about $20 million with $10 million added to each project for an endowment to fund future operation and maintenance budgets.

The first $30 million raised by this tax, if voters approve it, is projected for a new Big Piney rec center; the second $30 million will then be designated for a Pinedale community and arts center. When that $60-million total is raised through this 1-percent tax, the tax is to be discontinued.

Food and gasoline would not be taxed; other taxable goods purchased in the county would receive a 1-percent additional tax. It is estimated the SPET/one-cent tax could raise $60 million in four years at 2007 spending levels.

User fees are anticipated to help fund both projects’ operations as well. Both projects have been heavily debated for their value and need in their communities with numerous supporters and detractors alike. The first project, a south county rec center, has made progress. The county and the towns of Big Piney and Marbleton bought land and the county has funded the facility’s architectural designs by Chambers Design and Build. The project features two gyms, a rock-climbing wall, suspended walking track, racquetball courts, meeting space, teen area, dance/yoga room, multipurpose room, bowling alley and movie theater. Contractors have bid on the project and if the tax passes, construction could start in the Spring 2009.

The second project, the Pinedale community and arts center, is also into the drawing-board stages.

Sublette County commissioners hired Carney Architects to provide preliminary drawings for a facility to include space for programs identified through the community needs’ studies and for a cost estimate.

This project plans for multi-purpose classrooms, multi-purpose studio space, a gallery, several small meeting spaces, a large meeting space, catering kitchen and office space.

The large meeting space could hold 700 people in chairs or 400 at tables and could be divided into smaller spaces or double as a theater for 250.

An outdoor amphitheater and a patio area are included.

If the tax passes an architect would be hired for a final design and construction could start after the Rec Center was built, in Fall 2009 or Spring 2010.

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