CASPER, Wyo. — The Casper City Council reviewed a new survey gauging Natrona County citizens’ sentiments around the optional fifth-cent sales tax at a work session Tuesday.
With those results and council’s direction following the review, City Manager Carter Napier said a detailed four-year proposal for the tax’s use would be created for council’s review on June 28. Every four years, the council passes a resolution outlining these priorities, assuming it is approved again. The tax is up for renewal in the general election this November.
“That’s why you’re in such an important position right now, because you do get to set the agenda for the next four years,” Napier said. “And the resolution that you pass is essentially the contract with the community … in terms of the categories of where you’re going to spend it.”
The tax is primarily used for projects including roads, buildings, technology, and vehicles. To a lesser extent, it is also used to support local nonprofits and subsidize bus fare and admissions to city pools.
Pete Meyers, administrative analyst with the city manager’s office, presented the results and parsed some of its demographic quirks for the council.
91% of respondents agreed that “the tax has been beneficial for Natrona County,” Meyers said. That doesn’t perfectly align with the 62% who said they were “very likely” to vote for it again if the election were held today.
“It certainly suggests to me that people feel like it’s been good in the past, but they’re still not quite sure they want to continue to renew it,” Meyers said.
As in the past, four categories overwhelmingly won public support for the tax’s use:
- Water and sewer
- Fire and police
91% of the respondents said that street repair was “very important” or “important.”
Support for drainage and flood prevention, as well as cybersecurity, increased significantly compared to previous surveys, particularly in the older demographics, Meyers said, He added that “support” indicated combined “very important” and “important” responses.
Parks, playgrounds and trails got 67% support, especially in the younger demographics.
Sports, physical fitness, culture and entertainment scored the lowest in outright importance, though Meyers noted that a different metric indicated broader support for those categories. Respondents were asked to spend a theoretical $100 across five categories of spending. The results were:
- Public Safety: $25
- Buildings and Infrastructure: $24
- Health and Welfare: $19
- Recreation and Culture: $19
- Subsidizing Services: $13
Council addressed, and generally agreed with, some sentiments in the survey indicating that the fifth-cent has gradually strayed from the core infrastructure projects it was designed to support.
Councilmember Kyle Gamroth noted that he had reviewed some quarterly reports from organizations that received one-cent funding, and recalled that some had been allocated to nonprofit employee wages. Though he said he appreciated the work of those organizations, he said he’d like to see some course-correction back to capital projects, especially streets.
Napier and Mayor Ray Pacheco noted Casper has not subsidized nonprofit wages to the same extent as other municipalities.
Councilmembers Knell and Cathey agreed that the city may look at revising existing fixed commitments with nonprofits so that the city’s contributions tracked with actual revenues in the event the tax doesn’t perform as projected.
According to Meyers, some notable uses of the fifth-cent in the last four years include these projects (some supplemented by grants):
- Stormwater and street improvements on Industrial Avenue
- Milling and resurfacing on K Street
- Police vehicles
- Three full-size fire trucks
- Surface work associated with a water line project on Ridgecrest Avenue
Natrona County was also able to purchase two new squad trucks for the Natrona County Fire District last year.
Casper’s resolution laying out the fifth-cent priorities in 2018 can be found in the work packet beginning on page 62 here.
In 2018, about 75% of Natrona County voters approved the fifth-cent tax. About 70% approved it in 2014 and 2010, according to the clerk’s election results.