The decision was split 4-3, with councilmembers Karla Borders, Lindsey Cox and Kristy Salisbury voting “no.”
“The airport is important,” Cox said. “(But) our voters are not seeing any of the smaller projects being funded.”
The city has already allocated $880,000 in half percent sales tax money to the Riverton Medical District, with $100,000 going to the Central Wyoming College Rocky Mountain Complex for Ag and Equine Sciences and $80,000 going to Kifaru International, which moved to Riverton this year.
All of those projects are “great,” Cox said, but “a couple smaller ones here and there” would help “keep (people’s) hopes up for more things going back into our community.”
“I just think it would help (voters) want to keep the half cent, instead of getting rid of it altogether – and then what would it do for the airport?” she asked.
Twenty percent of countywide revenues from the optional sales tax already go to support commercial air service.
Ten percent of the money goes to countywide ground transportation efforts, and the rest is distributed to Fremont County and its six municipalities based on population.
Mayor Richard Gard and Councilmember Dean Peranteaux both talked about the economic activity the airport brings to Fremont County, but Salisbury said smaller efforts, like the new Sugarbeats Summer Concert Series, also have an economic impact.
“(They’re) trying to make it a better place to live and promote Riverton,” she said, adding, “I’m not against the airport, I’m just saying we need to serve many other things in the community too.”
She asked whether the city’s American Rescue Plan Act money could be used to support commercial air service instead, freeing up more half percent money for “some of our local community activities” that “don’t have the ability to use” ARPA funding.
The city has received a total of $1.8 million in ARPA revenue, finance manager Mia Harris said.
Currently, staff is planning to use the money to “offset future financial needs related to capital projects,” but Harris told the council that the funding can be spent on “anything that you deem necessary.”
The council “could explore” using ARPA money to support commercial air service, public works director Kyle Butterfield said, but he noted that “those funds are also needed (in) other areas of the city.”
The Fremont Air Service Team plans to ask Lander and Fremont County for half percent sales tax money, too, Butterfield said.
Gard hoped Riverton’s decision to approve the funding request would set a “good example” for the other communities.
For more information call the City of Riverton at 856-2227.