SHERIDAN — The Optional One-Cent Sales Tax is up for renewal this year and will be on the ballot in November. On Thursday, representatives from Dayton, Ranchester, Clearmont, Sheridan and Sheridan County met to discuss possible uses for the funds and how to proceed with public outreach and education.
Over its history, the one-cent sales tax, which is one of two optional pennies collected in Sheridan County — with the other supporting capital facilities projects — has supported infrastructure, public safety and a variety of nonprofits and social service organizations.
All the governmental entities who receive one-cent revenue must agree on how it will be used.
Over the last couple weeks, city officials have held a few listening sessions to explore the possibility of using one-cent funds for larger economic development projects such as supporting subsidized air service, which could enhance business and civilian flight service in the area, or the college, which trains students to take good paying jobs in the county, supporting economic development.
Councilman Alex Lee said he heard in the listening sessions that people are generally happy with how the one-cent tax is used but that they were willing to consider other options.
City Clerk Scott Badley said the city is looking at ways to make Sheridan and its surrounding communities more economically viable.
“We’ve heard some feedback when we talk to people that they are in support of the one-cent for a lot of the things it’s done in the past, but they’re also open to some other ideas, and how that all comes together remains to be seen,” Badley said. “Obviously we want to be able to have a vibrant community, and one of the things you do to have a vibrant community is a growing economy that’s based on good paying jobs. How do you find good paying jobs? Well, you bring in businesses or support and increase the business we have.”
County Administrative Director Renee Obermueller said the county also supports economic development but also does not want to cast off important social services funded in the past.
“We are looking at the history and looking at the importance of supporting critical nonprofits that provide wonderful services to our constituents when otherwise, if we didn’t have them, government may have to pick up that service. You have to balance the nonprofit side of this dollar to other projects that may come up,” Obermueller said.
“Things change, we evolve, and certainly economic development is on the forefront, and for good reason. We, as a community, want to try to become self-sustaining and not depend on a boom and a bust. Economic development is important if we want to basically unhook ourself from the roller coaster that we’ve been on,” Obermueller continued.
Ranchester Town Councilman Peter Clark said small towns like Dayton, Ranchester and Clearmont also think economic development is important but that if a larger economic development project is chosen for one-cent support, it must be chosen carefully. If the voters do not support the large project that is chosen, the tax may not be renewed, which would hurt small towns that rely on the nonprofits and social services supported by the tax.
“We have to ride on the coat tails of the city and the county. It’s important that the small towns voice their concerns. That was one of the concerns that came out to me. Everybody was worried about, especially the city, coming out with all their funds going toward something that doesn’t necessarily directly benefit us,” Clark said. “We need those funds. If the whole thing is scuttled by an inappropriate choice of projects, then we’re worried about that.”
At this point, Badley and Obermueller will work together to draft options for what to support. The city, county and towns will also work together on putting together a survey to get public input on what should be supported with the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax.
“We stepped out of our comfort zone in 2010 and did our first survey. I think it helped us understand maybe some areas we were missing, so the potential is that the constituents are voting for this, and we want to make sure we listen to them and provide them with what their needs and wants are also,” Obermueller said.
The survey will include questions about using the tax to support larger economic development projects, as well as other possible uses including nonprofits, social services, infrastructure and more.
Representatives from the towns, city and county will meet again in early June to discuss progress. A website will also be put together for public education.