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Big Horn County voting on $2.78 million levy to fill potential loss of coal tax revenue

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Posted at 10:06 PM, Jun 03, 2024

Big Horn County voters will look at a $2.78 million mill levy to maintain services for roads and fire.

“There's all kinds of equipment, you've got graders, loaders, paver,” said A.J. Espinoza, Big Horn County road superintendent/fire chief/junk vehicle director.  

Roads, fire, and junk vehicles all come under one department.

His 19-person crew may need to respond to a fire or repair culverts, overlay on an asphalt road or patch a hole.

Espinoza says the mill levy would help with his whole department.

“We would continue to provide the fire services they need,” Espinoza said. “And we'd be able to afford the equipment we need. Could be tanks, fire engines, hoses, other essential equipment or PPE.”  

The mill levy comes at the request of Big Horn County commissioners.

If approved by voters, it would mean paying almost $200 more in taxes each year for the owner of a $300,000 home.

But there is a caveat. That full tax would only be assessed if the coal revenue funds run out completely.

The tax could vary year to year depending on what's needed at any given time.

“We do anticipate we're going to keep receiving coal money,” said Mike Opie, Big Horn County accountant. “We're not going to tax the taxpayers more than what is necessary to provide the service. What we're asking for is the taxpayers to be able to give us a way of stabilizing the service.

Opie says the coal tax money decreased almost $80,000 this year.

And the budget is about $2.78 million for the road's junk vehicle and rural fire department.

“If we got into some real trouble, and then this didn't pass and coal dropped immediately, there'd be other programs that the public likes that would be affected,” Opie said.

The county hopes the coal tax revenue continues and says it's possible that the full $2.78 million will not need to be collected in a given year, at least in the short term.

“But again, we know that we're going get coal monies for the next few years,” Opie said. “We're not going to tax more than what is necessary to operate.”

The county wants to be ready if and when coal is no longer part of its tax revenue makeup.

“Just the inflation with everything going up, it's getting a little harder to afford, Espinoza said.