Ballot issues won’t cost more

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker 

NLJ News Editor

 

During the Nov. 3 general election, Weston County voters will have four propositions to consider. The issues that will appear on the ballot include a constitutional amendment and three taxes. Supporters of all the propositions say that their passage will not cost taxpayers any additional money because all of the taxes involved (lodging tax, 6 mills for the Weston County Hospital District and the 1% sales tax) are already in effect. Voters will just be approving their extension.

 

Ballot Proposition: Shall the Weston County Hospital District continue the District’s mill levy at the current six (6) mills; which was increased from three mills in a special election in 2008 and was continued in the general elections of 2012 and 2016?

“I urge all voters to consider long and hard the Weston County mill levy on the ballot this year,” said Norma Shelton, treasurer of the Weston County Health Services Foundation board. “The mill levy is needed because critical access hospitals cannot survive without community tax support. The volume is not there to cover the necessary expenses, along with equipment in hospital, laboratory and radiology, emergency room care for those that cannot pay, bad debt and financial assistance ($373,823 last year) and home health services.” 

According to information provided by the foundation, the mill levy amounts to $50 for each $100,000 assessed value on an individual’s property. This is the same amount that has been paid by property owners since 2008 and equals a $150 mill levy on a home valued at $300,000. 

In order to continue to provide quality care to Weston County residents and the elderly, as well as provide jobs for about 180 people, most of whom are local, Shelton said that the mill levy is needed. She noted the economic impact of not approving the mill levy could be huge. 

According to information provided by Weston County Health Services, specific economic concerns this year include Medicaid cuts of $15,576 for the hospital and home health and another $62,765 in cuts for the nursing home. The facility will also see a decrease of $87,253 in its in-home services grant and a decrease in funds associated with the county assessment to the tune of $153,873. 

Other issues, according to information provided by CEO Maureen Cadwell, include the rising cost of medical supplies and equipment, recruiting and retaining rural doctors and qualified technicians, increases in the number of uninsured, unfunded government mandates, shortage of direct care workers, improving the revenue cycle process, ongoing strategic planning for sustainability, cyber security and HIPAA compliances, higher demands for technology and artificial intelligence and the need for more affordable preventive care and testing. 

Operating costs total roughly $40,000 per day, providing care for 57 nursing home residents, 98 outpatients, five emergency room visitors, 136 prescriptions and six inpatients every 24 hours, Cadwell said. Services provided by the facility include sleep studies, mammography, visiting specialists, community wellness programs and physical, occupation and speech therapy. 

“Please remember Weston County Health Services is owned by you, the residents of Weston County and not by Monument Health,” Shelton said. “The 6 mills allows us to continue to provide care to the residents of Weston County. Your support is needed!” 

 

Ballot Proposition: Shall Weston County impose a lodging excise tax in the amount of 4% upon the sales price paid for lodging services, the primary purpose of which is for local travel and tourism promotion?

This tax, paid for by visitors to the county and not local taxpayers, goes toward funding the Weston County Travel Commission and generated $76,696.74 last year for marketing and supporting local communities, according to Weston County Travel Commission board member Norma Shelton. 

A total of $55,719.32, or 72.6% of the commission’s budget, went toward advertising Weston County. Shelton noted that this money keeps the county competitive with surrounding communities such as Custer, Keystone, Spearfish, and Deadwood, which all have similar lodging taxes. 

“The vast majority of the funds go toward advertising and marketing Weston County to attract new visitors, which generates more spending at our local hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, and outfitters,” Shelton said. “This year, the commission is allocating more of the budget to highly targeted digital marketing tactics.” 

“But, dollars brought in by the tax do support our communities,” Shelton said. “Last year, more than $20,000 went to local events, our chambers of commerce and beautification.” 

According to a breakdown provided by Shelton, 5.7% of the travel commission budget, or $4,400 went to beautification, 10.7% or $8,231.25 went to both the Upton and Newcastle chambers, and 10.1% or $7,7756.48 went to community events. 

“Since the Upton and Newcastle chambers of commerce help support our local business community and make the county a more vibrant place, the commission helps their operations,” Shelton said. “Last year, funds were allocated to their websites, which gave visitors valuable information as they plan their trip to the area.” 

Shelton noted that the commission spent $589.69 last year for operations and overhead. 

“Because the Weston County Travel Commission is run by volunteers, administrative expenses are incredibly low. Costs are largely restricted to accounting expenses and office supplies,” she said. 

As for community events, Shelton said the commission helps community organizations creating events to help attract visitors and local residents. 

“Last year, funds were distributed to the Cambria Bow Hunters, the American Legion, and the Upton Gun Club, among others,” Shelton said. 

 

Ballot Proposition: Constitutional Amendment A – This amendment will remove the constitutionally specified limit on the amount of debt a municipality can create for sewer projects and would allow the Legislature to prescribe by law the debt limit for municipal sewer projects. 

“As far as Newcastle is concerned, it won’t affect us one way or the other,” said City Clerk-Treasurer Greg James. “As far as I can tell, it won’t hurt or help Newcastle.” 

According to James, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities reported that the amendment would protect Wyoming’s clean water by allowing cities and towns to improve and better maintain their wastewater treatment systems and facilities. 

“From a conversation I had with Mr. (Justin) Schilling at WAM (Member Service Manager), this was kind of ‘gimmee’ from the Legislature because it raises no taxes, is tax negative in that it costs nobody anything, but the Legislature still retains control over the amounts that can be borrowed,” James said. “And, as I understand, any indebtedness must still be voted on by the people in the community applying for the funds.” 

Information from the association states that approval of the amendment would allow the “legislature more latitude to allow cities and towns to pay for wastewater improvements over time by eliminating an antiquated debt cap in the Wyoming Constitution.” 

The association notes that the amendment was supported by the Wyoming Senate by 90% in the final vote in 2019 and was requested by the 98 cities and towns represented by WAM. 

 

Ballot Proposition: Shall Weston County, Wyoming continue to impose a sales and use tax at the rate of one percent (1%) upon retail sales of tangible personal property, admissions and services made within the county to raise funds for the general revenue?

Weston County voters barely passed the 1% optional sales tax during the last election, and local government officials said that getting rid of the tax would greatly affect their ability to provide funding to services providers and other organizations.  

“This is the revenue that allows us to provide funding for the Weston County Senior Center, Weston County Humane Society, FOCUS, Weston County Children’s Center, Northern Wyoming Mental Health, youth services, In-Home Health and the Newcastle Ambulance Service,” Newcastle Clerk-Treasurer Greg James said. “Without this tax, we could not afford any of this funding, and other services may be reduced as well. The surplus beyond these needs goes into our general fund, which pays for the cemetery, fire department, police department, streets, parks and general city operations.” 

According to James, the tax generated $720,781 for the city last year. 

Both the city and county historically use the 1% optional sales tax to fund a variety of service providers from ambulance services to the Weston County Children’s Center.

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