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Listening session draws supporters of Optional One Percent

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Public feedback for the city’s management of the Optional One Percent sales tax was overwhelmingly positive during Tuesday night’s listening session before the Gillette City Council.

The Optional One Percent is a penny tax; it collects one penny for every dollar spent in Campbell County that, collectively, pays for infrastructure projects as well as provides critical funding to social service agencies that depend on the tax to keep their doors open.

In the last ten years, the city’s portion of the Optional One Percent has provided over $165 million for streets, sidewalks, public safety, drainage, and millions more for social service agencies, according to the city, which says it’s also paid for 27,000 feet of new water and sewer line installment and 400 feet of drainage channel.

The tax paid for nearly 60 miles of road surface repair and 14 miles of new road surface as well as over 19,000 feet of new pathway and sidewalk repair, per the city.

For the first time in four years, the Optional One Percent sales tax is up for reelection since its approval by Campbell County voters in 2018, who have repeatedly voted to continue the tax every four years since the Optional One Percent’s inception in 1976.

With the tax appearing on the ballot for consideration by Campbell County voters during the 2022 general election, the Gillette City Council held its first listening session this election cycle on July 26 to provide information to the public and to hear feedback on how it’s used by the city.

That feedback was decidedly positive; both from private residents and leaders of social service agencies.

Phil Christopherson, CEO of the Optional One Percent-funded agency Energy Capital Economic Development said the tax does a lot of good for the community and allows social service agencies to fill roles that would otherwise have to be filled by the city.

It’s also paid for improvements that have turned Gillette into the community that it is today, according to Christopherson, who expressed his gratitude to the city council that first got the Optional One Percent going 46 years ago.

Gillette in 1976 was not a very nice community, it was a rough place to be, Christopherson said.

“But it was the city leaders, like yourselves, who set out to make the (Optional Once Percent) work and gave us the community we have today,” he said, adding that he would love to see the tax continue for the next four years.

Gillette resident Mary L’Esperance said that she’s witnessed first-hand the positive impact that the Optional One Percent has had on her community, particularly the upgrades to the drainage system around Sage Bluffs.

“It used to be that the entire park would get flooded and for days, people couldn’t use the park because of debris and yuck that was all over the place,” L’Esperance said. “This new enhancement has been incredible.”

Even with heavy rains recently, the upgraded drainage system moved the water away from the park quickly, she said.

The Optional One Percent is also a critical fund for senior citizen care in the Gillette community, according to Ann Rosi, executive director of the Campbell County Senior Center.

It pays for transportation, meals, and other in-home care that allows Gillette’s senior community to remain independent and in their own homes if they so choose, Rosi said.

Sue Knesel said that the Optional One Percent built Gillette as it is today and expressed a desire for an increase in social service agency funding, which she says is the backbone of what makes Gillette a great place to live.

She said that there are no homeless residents on the streets because of the Optional One Percent investment into the Waystation and that the community’s youth wouldn’t be given a second chance without the Youth Emergency Services House.

Ryan Anderson, executive director of the YES House, said that he’s very thankful that he lives in a community that continues to support the Optional One Percent and provides a beautiful city with great roads, infrastructure, and social service support.

Anderson said that he has family across the United States who are notably impressed by what the community has to offer when they come to visit and see firsthand how much of a positive impact having an Optional One Percent sales tax can have on a community.

On the YES House side of things, Anderson said that his organization serves over 1,000 families each year and that without the services provided by the Optional One Percent, there would be more kids at risk in the Gillette community, more kids that are homeless and more kids at risk of potentially ending their lives.

“I just can’t say enough how much we appreciate that (Optional One Percent) in our community and what a big difference that makes and how important that is to our youth and families,” Anderson said.