Three Lander businesses receive local economic development money; rule-change required to fund commercial air service

­The Lander City Council has decided to distribute money to all three local businesses that applied for half percent sales tax funding this quarter.

The Lander Economic Development Association had only recommended funding for two of the applicants: The Lander Brewing Company and Fairfield Tree and Lawn.

The third applicant, Pushroot Guides, is a new business, and LEDA was not satisfied with the “detail and sophistication” of its business plan, LEDA board member Rick Rollino told the city council during a regular meeting Tuesday.

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The Lander Investment for Tomorrow group had recommended funding for Pushroot Guides, however, and Councilmember Julia Stuble said she was more “inclined” to agree with LIFT.

She then made a motion to approve LIFT’s recommendation over LEDA’s.

The motion passed in a 4-3 vote, with the “nays” coming from Councilmembers Dan Hahn, John Larsen, and Missy White.

White noted that, after LIFT makes its recommendations, LEDA applies an “increased level of scrutiny” to the half percent funding applications.

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“I would be more comfortable following LEDA’s recommendation on this,” she said.

Commercial air service

Fremont County’s commercial air service team also asked Lander for half percent money this quarter ($145,000), but LIFT didn’t consider the request, since Central Wyoming Regional Airport isn’t in city limits – a requirement to qualify for the local half percent program.

Rollino asked the council for “some direction” on the issue this week, and Stuble suggested it might be an appropriate topic for a work session.

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“(The airport) is an entity that has great economic benefit to Lander,” she said, wondering whether the city might want to loosen its restrictions on half percent funding for out-of-town projects.

Mayor Monte Richardson cautioned the council to “be really careful” with the decision, recalling that, when voters approved the half percent sales tax in 2020, the ballot said 30 percent of the money would go toward transportation, and the rest would be distributed to local governments for economic development.

“It wasn’t set to be open-ended,” Richardson said. “(If) we go back on that, then I think that’s not being truthful to the public.”

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Riverton city administrator Kyle Butterfield agreed that “we want to be very careful” with half percent sales tax distributions – but he also pointed out that local government officials can allocate their portion of the money at their discretion.

“This process that you’re going through is very appropriate,” Butterfield said. “(You’re) using your stewardship as elected officials to decide how you use that discretionary amount.”

Riverton already agreed to allocate $145,000 of its half percent funding to commercial air service this year, Butterfield said, and Fremont County will soon be asked to contribute $288,000 from its distribution.

The money will help cover the minimum revenue guarantee that keeps United Airlines operating in Wyoming.

That guarantee was set at almost $3.7 million this year, Butterfield said.

The state will cover $2.2 million of that total, he said, and about $700,000 will come from the half percent sales tax revenues that were officially earmarked for transportation.

Riverton has also offered to provide an additional $190,000 from its own coffers to support the MRG, Butterfield said.

For more information call the City of Lander at 332-2870.

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