How Fremont County Came to Have a ½ Cent Sales Tax to Fund Transportation & Economic Development

How Fremont County Came to Have a ½ Cent Sales Tax to Fund Transportation & Economic Development Main Photo

21 Feb 2022


News

Residents of Fremont county don’t like taxes. In fact, the county prides itself on having low taxes as an advantage for the businesses and residents who call it home. What residents did need was reliable commercial air service. In order to maintain it, they had to come up with a way to meet the local match for the minimum revenue guarantee (MRG) for the airline - to the tune of $600,000 annually. “We knew that air service was important to residents and that our local communities no longer had the general funds to meet the revenue guarantee each year. The Fremont Air Service Team (FAST) and local stakeholders worked together to come up with a solution,” said Kevin Kershisnik, Executive Director of IDEA Inc. Riverton’s Economic Development Organization. “That solution ended up being the sales and use tax for economic development, imposed by Fremont County Commissioners as defined by the Wyoming state statutes.”

Before seeking approval for the idea, the task force ran a survey to take the temperature of local residents. They found that there was not much difference in public opinion between a ¼ and ½ cent sales tax. “This told us that we could use this mechanism to fund the air service MRG and ground transportation and still have money left over for community economic development projects. At that point, the ½ cent sales tax became an exciting opportunity for us to grow our community,” said Kershisnik. 

Once they knew that residents were generally supportive of the idea they approached the six municipalities and the county commissioners who would need to approve the measure before it could be placed on the ballot. The majority were in favor, but it was not unanimous and couldn ot be placed on the ballot.  At that point, they moved to Plan B and got 10 percent of the electorate to sign a petition to get it on the ballot. “The Political Action Committee (PAC) and other dedicated citizens did an incredible job going out and getting signatures. This was in the middle of COVID and they still gathered over 1,250 signatures,” said Kershisnik. Once on the ballot, the ½ cent sales tax was approved by voters. 

Forward Fremont CountyBut that wasn’t the end of community engagement. They have created a process where people can submit their project ideas directly to the applicable municipality or county via their respective government websites and applications.  Application deadlines and information can be found at the ForwardFremontCounty.org website and Facebook page. Once submitted, committees review the proposals to ensure they meet the ballot verbiage of retaining or increasing employment, and/or resulting in a net gain of money into the community and make a democratic decision regarding what to move forward and how much funding each project should get. “We are focused on ensuring that all of our communities benefit from economic development funding. For example, Riverton city council recently agreed to help fund a new medical center in Riverton that’s part of the Riverton Medical District. The project will receive up to $880,000 from the funds collected through the ½ sales tax. They have also agreed to fund $100,000 towards improving the Central Wyoming College (CWC)  Ag Science Center. Funds will be used to put in additional seating and RV hookups in order to have more event space in Central Wyoming.  

Lander and the county have funded multiple projects and businesses including the CWC Ag Science Center, Western Printing, Granite & Tile Connections, Bossert Collective, Kiddy up, Bow Spider, a sawmill, an RV builder, Next level gym and many more to come.  

New and growing businesses, like the ones mentioned above can also be funded through the ½ sales tax. For example, a Colorado backpack company is moving to Riverton and plans to create 25+ new jobs. They are working on an MOU that will allow for funds to go towards their equipment purchases, employee training, etc. “Once voters approved the ½ sales tax for economic development we received the gift of being able to say ‘yes’ to economic development and ‘yes’ to growth. We will continue to fund diverse projects that support the needs of our community,” said Kershisnik.

Other Wyoming communities may want to follow their lead in using this convenient funding mechanism to move their economies forward.