Towns and cities throughout Wyoming may soon gain the ability to raise their local sales tax without approval from the counties in which they reside, though some Jackson Hole officials say they would rather stick together in matters of taxation.
The Wyoming Senate and House of Representatives approved House Bill 47, which allows municipalities to propose a seventh penny of sales tax to their voters. At its annual retreat in January, the Jackson Town Council unanimously agreed to do just that.
More specifically, town councilors agreed to pose the question to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, which under current law would have to vote to place the tax on the ballot. Though HB 47 would give town officials the freedom to go it alone, it seems most prefer to maintain a united front.
“While on the face of it that might be a benefit to Jackson,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said of the bill, “the reality is we’re going to try really hard to get it countywide if we’re going to go down that road.” In fact, he said, the legislation “frankly didn’t impact us very much.”
Commissioner Luther Propst agreed: “I don’t think it’s all that critical for Teton County.”
Propst argued that Jackson and Teton County, more than perhaps any other town and county in the state, are “one community.” Teton is the only county in the state with just a single incorporated municipality, and the two governments often move in lockstep — or at least try to — when addressing shared challenges.
“The town and county work very closely here,” Commissioner Natalia D. Macker said. “Our financial futures are linked.”
Jackson and Teton County also lack the metropolis-rural dichotomy common in other parts of the state and the associated economic disparity. Here, both jurisdictions have commercial hubs that generate massive amounts of sales tax.
“I think it’d be a mistake to have our sales taxes higher for Smith’s and Albertsons than a retail store at the Village,” Propst said.
Of course, if the county rejects the seventh penny, Jorgensen noted “the reasons the Town Council had this discussion don’t go away.” The fact would remain that the cost of providing services to town residents is rising faster than the revenue to fund those services — all while officials strive to build more housing, improve transportation and address climate change — not problems with cheap solutions.
Ideally, Mayor Pete Muldoon agreed, the town and county would be on board with the seventh cent, but he is interested in the new legislation if only on the principle that more flexibility for funding local government is a good thing.
“I think it’s a good bill that allows towns to make the best funding decisions they can,” he said, “and to do it as locally as possible.”
It’s unclear where the commissioners stand on raising the sales tax rate. Although they haven’t discussed it formally, some said they are open to the idea.
“I think it’s a very viable potential source of revenue that we need to give a good look at,” Propst said.
The broader issue of local funding in Wyoming is growing more dire as the state Legislature grapples with declining fossil fuel revenue. In the yearslong struggle to balance the state’s budget, Senate President Drew Perkins recently said that municipalities and counties may not be able to rely much longer on the $105 million in annual distributions they’ve grown accustomed to.
The town and county will discuss the tax increase together at a joint meeting Monday.
As for House Bill 47, it isn’t final yet. The House and Senate passed slightly different versions of the bill and are trying to reach an agreement before sending it to the governor’s desk.