By Jasmine Hall, Wyoming Tribune Eagle
CHEYENNE – The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon Friday dedicated to educating local business and community leaders on the sixth-penny sales tax, which will be on the ballot this November.
Chamber officials invited Laramie County Commissioner Gunnar Malm, who led the sixth-penny committee, to speak to members about the benefits for county infrastructure and the growth it could stimulate across the local economy.
Dale Steenbergen, the chamber’s president and CEO, said he wanted the commissioner to give members the opportunity to make an informed decision, as well as understand how the sixth-penny sales tax has been a major driver for development in Cheyenne.
“Our goal is to get the information in the hands of our people,” he said, “because businesspeople will do what they need to with it, and they believe in this community.”
Many of those business leaders said they came to learn more as the election nears and left very excited about the possibilities the tax provides.
“I’m an educated voter,” said Michele Bolkovatz, Blue Federal Credit Union’s vice president of marketing, “and what I heard and saw, I’m all for it. I’m for continuing to invest in the community that I choose to live, work and play in.”
Laramie County residents will vote on the optional tax, which could provide up to $130 million in total through 14 propositions. The propositions are separated into four sections: public safety, roads, infrastructure and community enhancement.
Within the 14 propositions, more than 60 projects and purchases for the county could be funded.
Some of those include:
A new Laramie County Senior Center
Replacement and development of several fire stations in Cheyenne
Communication and response equipment for county emergency services
The construction of a Cheyenne gymnasium and gymnastics facility
Remodeling, repairs and maintenance of infrastructure in Burns, Pine Bluffs and Albin
Maintenance and expansion of the Greater Cheyenne Greenway system
Helping to build out Laramie County Community College’s manufacturing program
Funding projects such as these is not uncommon for the county. Laramie County residents have approved a sixth-penny sales tax several times over the past 30-plus years. The sixth-penny funds have been used for infrastructure and development projects.
There is a five-year timeline for the tax, which is based on historical collections. In the last five-year cycle, the county collected $100 million from the tax. Malm said he is confident that the pattern will continue through the next few years.
Since state funding has continued to shrink, Malm said the sixth-penny sales tax is becoming a necessity. He said eventually there may be no direct distribution from the state, and Laramie County will have to support itself completely through taxes such as this one.
Previous developments the sixth-penny sales tax funded were the Laramie County Library, Events Center at Archer, Laramie County Governmental Complex and Cheyenne Public Safety Center.
The tax does not go toward general government spending, like the fifth-penny tax. Funds only go toward what the public votes to invest in.
“The goal of the sixth penny is to make sure that our community is set up for long-term success,” Malm said, “and to do these projects in a way that we can take care of them quickly.”
Other local government officials also are trying to educate the public on what the sales tax can provide for the county. Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins has repeatedly expressed his excitement for propositions on the ballot this November, and said Friday, “It’s a critical component of making Cheyenne what it is.”
Attendees at the luncheon shared those same sentiments, and said they were impressed with how Laramie County seemed to be leading the charge on using sales tax to give back to the community.
Robert Trevizo, manager of UniWyo Federal Credit Union’s Cheyenne branch, said after the presentation he believes the propositions need to move forward for the betterment of the community. He said a welcoming downtown environment and strong infrastructure are good causes to focus on.
“A thriving community benefits all,” he said.
Business owners such as Luke Sabre, owner of a local heating and cooling contracting company, said the benefits to him are obvious. He said it gives companies similar to his the chance to partake in infrastructure construction development projects, but there was more at stake to him than just economic opportunity.
Sabre spoke to the beautification of Cheyenne and his particular excitement for the Cheyenne gymnasium and gymnastics facility project. His business is located near the possible development location, and he drives past it every day, wishing that he could update and build new facilities himself. He said he wants to offer better services for the community and new residents.
“It’s an easier sell, as we look to grow our community, to have those facilities,” he said.
Early voting on propositions for projects, such as facilities in Cheyenne, infrastructure development and economic investment across Laramie County, begins Sept. 17. Election Day is Nov. 2.
“I am always grateful and feel blessed to live and serve in Laramie County, but even more so as we look over the next five to 10 years, because I’m extremely bullish on our community,” Malm said at the end of his presentation. “And I think that there is no limit to our success, as long as we find and put into place those pieces.”