TORRINGTON – The COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of economic diversity has forced the Goshen County Board of Commissioners to trim the county’s operating budget significantly for the upcoming fiscal year, and as a result the commission was unanimous in cancelling its annual $7,500 contribution to the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation.
Representatives from the GCEDC spoke to the GCC last week, and Commissioner Russell ‘Pinky’ Walter said the county had no choice but to end its financial support of the non-profit.
“We started our budget process this spring $450,000 in the hole compared to what departments are asking,” Walter said. “We have cut and slashed and cut and slashed, and as of last week we were down to $65,000 in the hole still, and that’s leaving GCEDC out of it. We’re still in the process of cutting and slashing and we just don’t have the money.
“I like the idea of it, and I’ll come to your meetings and represent the county commissioners and everything at your meetings. I won’t be a voting member, but I’ll be a liaison. We just don’t have the money. We agree with what you guys are doing, but we just don’t have it.”
GCEDC Vice President Scott Prusia told the GCC the money won’t make a huge difference for the organization, but asked the county to be involved with the GCEDC in other ways. The GCEDC is primarily funded by a quarter-cent sales tax, which was resoundingly re-enacted by voters in 2018.
The corporation is a non-profit which uses that tax money to fund a variety of grant programs to promote and support local businesses and municipalities, and works with outside companies to bring new business to the county.
“That $7,500 isn’t going to make or break us, but I think it’s a good investment for the county,” Prusia said. “If you look at our sales tax this year over last year, we’re one of the few counties that have increased the sales tax in the last year.
“Why is that? It’s because we’re generating economic development in the county. When 72% of the voters support GCEDC, that’s a big statement.”
Prusia told the commission the GCEDC had played key roles in Eastern Wyoming College’s ATEC building, the Cobblestone Hotel and other major projects around the county. He also said the GCEDC has donated more than $2 million to local businesses and municipalities through its Progress Program, and donated $20,000 to 47 businesses impacted by COVID-19.
The GCEDC also promotes tourism in Goshen County, which Prusia said has a direct effect on county coffers.
“Tourism is a large part of our economy, probably more so than a lot of us think,” Prusia said. “In the last year, it has generated $1.7 million in state and local taxes, and 10% of that goes right back into the county’s budget. With the addition of the new hotel and the efforts of the chamber, we’ve done a lot to attract tourism and local tourism. That generates a lot of sales tax dollars for us. Without the tourism money, it would be quite a struggle.”
But GCC Chairman John Ellis said he believes a large percentage of sales tax money comes from county residents.
“Outside money is important, but who pays most of that?” he said. “It’s the people who live right here, day in and day out. They pay most of the sales tax. It’s a tax on Goshen County.
That’s just all there is to it. We’re here all of the time.”
Ellis also said he has an issue with one taxpayer-funded entity helping fund another.
“You know how I feel about that, how I feel about having two tax entities, and having one paying the other,” he said. “I just can’t imagine a tax entity, it’s kind of like a high-dollar club of some kind and you have to pay a membership to be a part of it. I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t think it is in the best interest of the taxpayers or the county to do that.
“Our budget is down to nothing, and to pay GCEDC when it’s another tax entity like we are, it just doesn’t seem right to me. I’m not against economic development at all, but I just don’t like the process and the way it works and functions. I don’t think it’s fair to the taxpayers to have to pay twice.”
But the county’s presence is more important than the money, GCEDC Treasurer Jeff Jones said.
“I think GCEDC, the city and the county should all be working hand-in-hand in everything we’re doing,” Jones said. “We’re going to be moving forward trying to make this county a hospitable place for business and a place where entrepreneurs and businesses want to come. If we can do more of that, it will take more and more pressure off the city and county budgets.
“We need somebody from the county to be involved in our meetings and know what is going on all the time. We could have some input back and forth so we can move forward on a lot of these projects. It saves a lot of time and makes things go a lot smoother if we can work together on some of these projects.”
Commissioner Cody Cox agreed the county needs to be involved, but it simply can’t contribute financially at this time.
“I can’t make myself take money away from one of the other departments to give to you guys,” Cox said. “Not right now anyway. We’re under such tight constraints and in my opinion, like John said, I have nothing against GCEDC and I support you guys 100%, but in my opinion from a business standpoint I think we could use that $7,500 elsewhere.”