Optional One-Cent Sales Tax best spent with service organizations

Last Monday, the Sheridan City Council and the Sheridan County commissioners met to start hashing out some of their differences on a wide range of issues.

The city and the county seem to be on completely different pages — perhaps even in different books — when it comes to how their issues could be solved.

City Council members, including Sheridan Mayor Dave Kinskey, would like to leave most of the policy research and recommendations to staff.

Kinskey said in the March 3 City Council meeting that he plans to meet with the council members “two-by-two to help bring them up to speed on some of these issues.” But, Wyoming state statutes dictate that, “communications outside a meeting, including but not limited to, sequential communications among members of an agency, shall not be used to circumvent the purpose of” the open meetings act — which is to ensure the public’s business is done in public.

The commissioners, on the other hand, have expressed their desire to have the governing bodies hash out the differences publicly, to ensure that each elected representative is fully informed and engaged in the process. Time consuming, yes. Worthwhile, absolutely.

One of the issues scheduled for discussion is the renewal of the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax. It will be on the ballot this fall and has historically provided a relatively steady source of funding for area nonprofits and service organizations.

Voters were able to see where the money would go when it was collected and know that their dollars were helping keep Sheridan’s quality of life among the highest in Wyoming. Thanks to the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax, organizations like the Dog and Cat Shelter, Sheridan Health Center, Tongue River Valley Community Center, the Downtown Sheridan Association, Volunteers of America, Habitat for Humanity and many, many more were able to do what they do best — serve our residents.

The city has considered reworking the way this money is distributed, though. A memo from City Clerk Scott Badley to the mayor and department heads states, “Another method of funding could be a group established to review and offer recommendations based upon a previously agreed upon set of evaluation criteria established to foster project specific funding and not ongoing operational subsidies. This ‘community chest’ could assist community efforts establishing a mechanism to become self-sustaining.”

Getting community members to pass an “optional” tax when they have no clear outline of where funding will be used is a tough sell. Rightfully so.

Who would determine which projects are worthy?

In addition, there are many, many other organizations locally, statewide and across the country that provide grants to these service and nonprofit organizations for specific projects. Does the governing body need to be another one? No.

In a similar situation recently, the city found itself struggling with a change in operational funding. Some of the funding that came from the state was required to only be used for one-time expenses rather than operational costs or salaries. City officials bemoaned this requirement, yet they now seem willing to put a similar burden on other organizations.

The city has said they are only exploring options. They’ve held two “listening sessions” over the last week and another is planned for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Senior Center.

The Optional One-Cent Sales Tax will also be discussed by City Council at budget work sessions at noon on May 9 and May 14 in the third floor council chambers in City Hall.

Rather than hoard money for specific projects, the city would be better served by offering continued financial support to the local groups that give so much back to Sheridan’s people.


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