Voters in this election cycle will be asked to make a decision about amending the Wyoming State Constitution. The amendment, called Amendment A, deals with the amount of debt that municipalities can incur for sewer projects.
The issue comes down to an old law and how state water utilities should be regulated.
What is Amendment A?
The amendment removes a debt limit for sewer projects imposed on municipalities by the Wyoming Constitution.
What does the Constitution currently say?
The state constitution limits the amount of debt municipalities are allowed to incur to 4% of the value of taxable property within the municipality, while providing an exception for sewage disposal and systems water supply. The exception for sewage systems allows for an additional 4% debt, but water systems are completely exempt from the debt limit.
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The language in question is found in Article 16, Section 5 of the Wyoming Constitution.
What is the problem?
Sewage systems have come a long way since this section of the Wyoming Constitution was last updated in 1962. These systems have also become more expensive to repair.
Casper City Manager Carter Napier said the law hasn’t advanced with technology, and the debt cap now creates a hurdle when municipalities face major repairs.
The city of Casper, for example, needs to do $30 million in updates, repairs and upgrades to its sewage treatment plant. But to complete the repairs over a 10-year period, the city will have to pay for much of the project up front. Without $30 million in the bank, the city will likely have to incur debt to offset the costs. But with the current constitutional debt limit for sewer projects, the city could only bond half of the $30 million project.
Napier argues that because both sewage systems and water supply systems deal with Wyoming’s water, they should be treated the same by the state.
What happens if the city cannot endorse a project?
Napier said that if the city is unable to take on more debt to make repairs quickly, it will have to turn to the state (which is facing a budget crisis of its own), 1 penny tax sale and/or an increase in taxpayers’ remediation costs.
It would also extend the time it takes to pay for, and therefore complete, repairs, which would also make the process more expensive. Napier said he thinks taxpayers would be better off if the city could go into debt, rather than shift most of the burden onto residents.
Are there any misconceptions about the amendment?
Napier said the only misconception he’s heard is that the amendment allows municipalities to impose new taxes on residents. It’s not true. The amendment simply lifts the debt cap for sewer projects and gives the Wyoming legislature the power to set a new cap.
Amendment A is on the ballots for this general election.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites