A Good Problem: Casper Will Have $24 Million In Unallocated One-Cent Sales Tax No. 14 Revenues
Casper will be receiving far more money than city council anticipated from the expiring Optional One-Cent Sales Tax No. 14.
By the end of March, that will amount to nearly $24 million, and city council members discussed how to use it during a council work session Tuesday.
"The projected revenues are well above what we thought they would be," Mayor Charlie Powell said after the three-and-a-half-hour work session.
"So we need to come up with a system that's open and fair that looks at the possible needs and what we might spend that money on," Powell said. "The sentiment tonight was that given some of the uncertainties of our revenue stream, that some of that money -- and a good portion of it -- ought to be set aside in the event that our revenues decline in the future so that we can meet our obligations and the things that people said they wanted us to do with optional one-cent 15."
Natrona County voters renewed the optional, or fifth-penny, sales tax, for a 15th time by a 71 percent majority in the November general election. Revenues are distributed based on populations in the municipalities and unincorporated areas of the county.
Much of the city's projected $68 million revenues from 2015 through 2018 have already been allocated with the lion's share going to capital improvements including street repair, water and sewer infrastructure, police, and swimming and recreation, according to the council's priorities set in August.
Historically, council has allocated 18 percent of any excess revenues to other agencies, which will amount to about $4 million over four years from the expiring optional one-cent No. 14.
That leaves about $20 million, and the council will be seeking public comment as to how to best use that, Powell said.
Some of the suggestions offered by council members include putting another $3 million into the perpetual care fund that would bring the total to $40 million. The goal of this fund is to use the interest on the principal to maintain previous one-cent-funded projects such as the Events Center.
There are some capital improvements in the city's general capital improvement plan that have yet to be funded, according to a Jan. 9 memo from City Manager John Patterson to the council.
One is a new lodge at the Hogadon Ski Area estimated to cost $6 million. One third of the existing lodge has been condemned as unsafe to occupy.
The other is a $500,000 storage building at the Casper Events Center.
Council vice president Daniel Sandoval said the lodge would be a tangible project that voters would want to see.
But councilman Craig Hedquist said council already balked at spending $250,000 for a maintenance building at Hogadon and wondered whether the public would support a $6 million lodge.
Councilman Shawn Johnson said it's time for the city to make a firm decision about Hogadon. "Do something with it or let it go."
Councilman Steve Cathey said the city would be wise to develop some drainage ditches along 15th Street where flooding occurs every few years.
Regarding other capital improvements, Powell added that the city's waste water treatment plant may be needing a major overhaul.
Cathey and Bob Hopkins also proposed setting aside $10 million in an "opportunity fund" that may be needed in light of the shocks to the oil industry which has seen the price tumble to $46 a barrel with direct impacts on Casper businesses.
The council doesn't need to make any decision until late February.
That will give council members time to talk to their constituents, as well as hear from the public, Hedquist said. "I don't think we'll lose anything to wait a month."