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Lawmakers Study Equity Of Recreation Mill Levies

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Lawmakers are taking a look at whether recreation mill levies create inequity for Wyoming students.

Under state law, communities can collect one mill from taxpayers—or one one-thousandth of the assessed property value of a school district—to pay for recreational facilities. Frequently districts use the mill levy to pay for such things as swimming pools and enhanced auditoriums. 

But the amount of revenue generated this way in each district varies wildly—due to disparities in the assessed valuation of each county. For instance, this school year, Laramie collected $382,000 dollars while Gillette brought in $5.7 million.

The state’s constitution requires lawmakers to provide equal educational opportunity. So, the Legislature’s Management Council asked the Joint Education Interim Committee to study whether the disparity violates that requirement. 

Craig Blumenshine is the former president of the recreation board for Fremont County School District 25. He says he sees vast disparities within his county.

“Over the past 10 or 11 years, Shoshoni, which serves a little over 300 students in its district has received over $6.4 million from its rec mill,” Blumenshine says. “Riverton—over the same period of time—which serves over 2600 students—has gotten $2.4 million. So there’s a $4 million difference. I think you can argue that it’s not equal; it’s not equitable.”

Kirby Eisenhower is an associate superintendent at Campbell County School District One—and opposes any effort to equalize recreation funding.

“Education is an indelible right, no doubts about that,” Eisenhower says. “However, recreation is not. So, when we talk about inequities, we’re talking about a permissive levy. The idea of assessing taxes that are going to be sent outside of the local county boundaries, I feel, is inappropriate.”

Some opponents of efforts to equalize recreation funding say some communities may prefer not raising the tax at all to sending their tax dollars elsewhere.

The state’s school finance attorney, Mike O’Donnell, says it’s possible that a court could rule that the disparity is a violation of the constitution—and urged lawmakers to proceed with caution.

The Committee will next discuss the issue at its October meeting.

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