Town of Evansville, WY. (From Town of Evansville Facebook page)

EVANSVILLE, Wyo. — In recent months, the debate of whether or not municipalities should pass the optional fifth-cent tax into perpetuity has been hotly contested among elected officials and local residents. On Monday, Evansville Town Council members were in agreement: The tax is a benefit to the town, but should remain in the voters’ hands.

There are two ways the tax can become permanent. Either half of the municipal governments in Natrona County can pass an ordinance to request that the Natrona County Board of County Commissioners make it permanent via resolution; or half the municipalities can request that the county place the issue on the ballot and let the electorate decide.

As it currently stands, Natrona County voters are able to approve or decline the tax every four years at the ballot box. For more than four decades, Evansville voters have approved the additional tax every time. With the tax, the town has been able to fund road repairs, equipment for the police and fire departments and other local projects.

The Casper City Council and Edgerton City Council have already decided to put the matter in the county commissioners’ hands. However, Evansville Town Council members aren’t on board with the idea.

“I’m a big believer in the fifth-cent. I think it’s done an awful lot of good,” Councilmember Phil Gierke said. “That being said, in my opinion we should leave it the way that it is. Town councils, whether you’re from Casper or Bar Nunn … I think we have a responsibility to spend that money responsibly. As long as we do so, the electorate has always been open to approving it.”

Gierke added that future councils may not use the funds responsibly, in which case voters should have the option of denying fifth-cent tax during the next election.

The rest of the council — Candace Machado, Dacia Edwards, Greg Flesvig and Mayor Chad Edwards — all voiced similar sentiments.

“There’s been support of this optional fifth-cent tax every time since 1974. So obviously the voters like it,” Flesvig said. “We should keep it in the voters’ hands.”

“It’s our responsibility to give the citizens of the community and county as much say as we can,” Gierke agreed.

Flesvig also said he’s wary of passing the tax into perpetuity because it would open the doors to future sixth- and seventh-cent taxes.

While Chad Edwards said he is in favor of giving voters as much power as possible — either by keeping things as is with a vote every four years or letting the voters decide to pass the tax into perpetuity themselves — he didn’t mince words when talking about the tax’s importance.

According to the mayor, fifth-cent tax funds amount to roughly 17% of Evansville’s budget each fiscal year

“Definitely there would be an impact to services [if voters don’t approve the tax],” he said. “We can’t just absorb that type of hit. Our budget is very, very tight.”