The Mills City Council accepts public comment during open discussion Aug. 8. (YouTube screenshot)

MILLS, Wyo. — Whether a permanent fifth-penny sales tax is the right choice for the City of Mills is a question its leaders must still debate.

During the Tuesday, Aug. 8 Mills City Council regular meeting, Mayor Leah Juarez said a group had met with the council during an Aug. 7 work session “pushing to make the fifth-cent permanent.” Implementing a permanent local tax would take away voters’ right to approve or disapprove the optional sales and use tax every four years.

“No decision was made on the tax,” Juarez said, acknowledging that the group made some good points.

Her comment was in response to a question during the Aug. 8 council meeting open discussion when EJ Harvey asked where the council stands on the one-cent issue.

“We still have to debate a little bit further as far as the council goes on what we will or won’t do,” Juarez said.

“We’re kind of split on the whole thing,” added Councilmember Brad Neumiller.

In Natrona County, the optional one-cent sales tax has been met with strong voter approval every four years since 1974. Recent changes in Wyoming statute provide ways for local governments to permanently add a 1% sales and use tax to the statewide 4%.

One way for Natrona County to implement a permanent one-cent sales tax is for a majority of municipalities in the county to approve the fifth-penny tax through resolutions and ordinances. The incorporated municipalities in Natrona County are Casper, Mills, Midwest, Evansville, Edgerton and Bar Nunn. To initiate the change, four of the six must petition Natrona County for approval, and the county commissioners must then agree.

The Casper City Council is already taking action to extend the countywide optional fifth-penny sales tax indefinitely. The council is set to vote on a third and final reading of the one-cent tax continuation ordinance next week at the Casper council’s regularly scheduled Aug. 14 meeting.

City of Mills councilmembers are just beginning to consider whether to join fifth-penny advocates who favor changing the long-standing practice.

At the Aug. 8 meeting, the mayor added her personal view on removing people’s right to vote on the special tax.

“In that aspect alone I don’t agree with it,” Juarez said. “It’s one of the few ways they can hold us accountable and hold the purse strings.”

She noted that the 1% tax historically receives strong voter approval.

Of Wyoming’s 4% statewide tax, the state keeps about 70% for its general fund and distributes 30% to counties, cities and towns to divide up based on a population formula. With the fifth-penny tax, the state keeps 1% of revenue and 99% is returned to the county and municipal governments to distribute based on population.

Casper has a population of 58,656, while Mills has a population of 4,221.

“It’s frustrating for a group like us,” Juarez said. “Although we appreciate that additional one-cent we get … we are not the same as Casper. We do not collect the same revenues as Casper.”  

Juarez said that while the City of Casper may rely on the tax to provide services, that’s not necessarily true for Mills.

“We can strategize and make different plans,” she said. “We are not held to the same fire as they are. We have more luxuries and freedoms in Mills than they do, so that’s a good thing.”

Regardless of whether Natrona County decides to support the movement now, “one way or another, it’s coming,” Neumiller said.