The fifth-penny tax will once again be on Albany County ballots this election. This is an optional one-cent sales tax that has appeared on the ballot every four years since 1986. The tax has been approved by the majority of voters every time it has come up for renewal, and has increased in voter approval over the years. In fact, 75 percent of Albany County voters approved of it during the 2010 election.

According to Susan Simpson, Chair of the Penny Political Action Committee, or Penny PAC, the tax is distributed to Albany County, the City of Laramie and Rock River. The tax makes up between 15 percent and 20 percent of Laramie’s budget each year and has been used for a variety of projects. The city uses these funds for streets, parks, storm water drainage, ambulance and other service. In addition, the money from the tax can be used to match grant funding. 

It’s not targeted at a specific audience. It’s targeted at people who buy items with sales tax.

Simpson says Albany County uses the tax to purchase equipment, software and computer technology. In addition, money taken in from the tax was recently used in repairing bridges in the county. The town of Rock River has used the funds for operations such as improving their cemetery and park.

In addition, community agencies often receive money from this tax. Simpson says over 40 community agencies have received support from the sales tax. These include groups like the trap club, soup kitchen, Laramie Rivers Conservation District, Lincoln Community Center, SAFE Project, Railroad Depot Association, Head Start, Civic Center, Hospice of Laramie, Interfaith-Good Samaritan, and more.

While these groups do not rely primarily on these funds, Simpson points out that money from the tax is fundamental to some organizations. For example, Simpson says, the Youth Crisis Center has received almost $200,000 in the last four years.

“The city and county have distributed over three million dollars in the last four years to various community partners from the sales tax,” says Simpson. “And that doesn’t include the use they have had for the money themselves”

The total income from the fifth-penny tax over the last four years has been $19.5 million.

Simpson adds that while the tax adds one cent per dollar spent, those who are low income may get up to $800 in rebates for sales taxes paid each year. In addition, sales tax is not charged on unprepared food items or prescription drugs, ultimately creating a safeguard for lower income individuals.

Passing the fifth-penny tax would mean that sales tax in Albany County would remain at six percent.

If not passed, sales tax in Albany County would be reduced to five percent starting July 1, 2015. The tax would not be able to appear on the ballot again for 11 months.

Without the fifth-penny tax, Simpson says the city would then need to reevaluate its budget. With 15 to 20 percent of the city’s budget coming from this extra penny in sales tax, significant cuts would need to be made. Simpson says the city would have to determine which services are essential and which are non-essential. Those non-essential services would then be cut to meet budget.

Simpson points out that Albany County is the poorest county in the state per capita with the top employers not required to pay any property taxes. Unlike many other counties in the state, Albany County does not have any major manufacturing, mining, oil or gas bringing in funds. That causes the county to heavily rely on property and other taxes paid by residents.

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