Penny, pennies

As the fifth penny, sixth penny and lodging tax head for the ballot box, deciding how to pitch the taxes to the voters requires coordination between all three of Albany County’s governing bodies.

The Rock River Town Council, Albany County Commission and Laramie City Council put their heads together Thursday at City Hall to determine what projects would be prioritized for the specific purpose tax, or sixth penny.

Laramie Mayor Andi Summerville said the meeting was called because the general purpose tax, or fifth penny, sixth penny and lodging tax are all expected to appear before the voters within the next year. To avoid putting several taxes on the same ballot, potentially killing all the tax options by overloading the voters with requests for funding, Commission Chair Tim Chesnut said the three elected bodies would like to put the sixth penny in front of the voters in August. Doing so requires the governments agree what projects the sixth penny would fund if it is approved by the voters.

“I think what we want to do is put projects on here that are looking toward the future,” Chesnut told the assembled councilors and commissioners. “What (the commission is) putting on here is all infrastructure.”

Summerville and Rock River Mayor CJ Leslie said their projects were also infrastructure.

While the county did not have complete estimates for all of its projects, Albany County Treasurer Linda Simpson said they were seeking about $17 million from the sixth penny. Lewis said Rock River’s specific purpose tax projects could cost about $3.5 million, and Summerville said the city was seeking about $40 million for various infrastructure projects.

“One thing we’ve got in common is the airport,” Chesnut said. “One of the crucial things that keeps us economically alive and growing is the airport. That’s the first thing people see when they come into town.”

Laramie Regional Airport Manager Jack Skinner said the airport plans to rebuild the terminal building and parking lots, which could cost about $14 million. While the airport has secured some grants for the project, Skinner said the (airport board) was requesting the city and county’s help with about $7.5 million.

“I think this is a prime investment,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said. “I would like it to be fully funded before we get into what need to.”

The Rock River Town Council also expressed interest in seeing the airport become the top priority for the proposed sixth penny. Although some of the Laramie city councilors said the airport could be a high priority, Summerville said they needed to discuss the allocation before committing to an amount.

“I think from the city’s perspective this is a very complex conversation,” Summerville said.

On the specific purpose tax as a whole, Richardson said the county would like to ask the voters for the full amount of what each government was seeking, which would be about $66 million with the airport funds included separately and could take about a 14-year commitment.

“I think we’ll pay it off in 11,” Richardson said, adding the two previous specific purpose taxes were estimated to be paid off in 10 and only took about eight.

“I think if we got it down to 12 (years), we could pay it off in nine,” Rock River Councilor Scott White said. “But 14 is a little long.”

The councilors and commissioners did not take any action at the meeting, but agreed to meet at a later date to decide what amount of the proposed tax should be allocated for the airport and how long the tax commitment should be.

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