WY news briefs

Yellowstone hotels cause Park Co. lodging tax jump

CODY (WNE) — A huge jump in lodging tax money for the Park County Travel Council in June compared to June a year ago is due more to hotels operating in Yellowstone National Park than an increase in tourism in Cody.

Collection of lodging taxes for last month were up $46,888, an increase of 35.8 percent from June of 2016.

“It is a lot,” said Claudia Wade, marketing director of the council.

The report was made at the council’s regular monthly meeting.

The amount reflects Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel being open all season after being closed for renovation in 2017. Similarly, Canyon Village, also is operating again.

“For sure, that’s where the big boost is coming from,” Wade said.

By extension, the increases affected January-June totals in the same type of positive manner.

After the first six months of the year lodging tax collections hit $113,794, which was 46 percent higher than last year over the same period.

There is not a similar jump in lodging taxes occurring from within Cody this summer.

“I think it’s going OK,” Wade said. “I don’t know that anyone’s breaking any records.”

The number of tourists visiting local attractions is at a fairly flat level, or showing minimal declines.

“They’re coming,” Wade said of the rate of tourists being roughly the same.

Summer flights are leaving Cody with passengers filling seats, Yellowstone Regional Airport director Bob Hooper told the council.

June was a record-setting month, he said, and that was with fewer flights since the weekend Chicago flights are not on the schedule this year.

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Lodging tax to be decided by voters

LARAMIE (WNE) — The Albany County Commission, Laramie City Council and Rock River City Council all passed a resolution during the past week to put the renewal of the lodging tax on the general election ballot, but it is the first time the cities had to sign off on the measure.

The lodging tax is a 10 percent sales tax paid on hotel and motel rooms in Albany County, and the money is then given to the Albany County Tourism Board. The tax generates more than $850,000 every year and the Albany County Tourism Board spends the money on marketing the county as a destination for tourists, said Fred Ockers, executive director of the board.

Travel in Albany County is an economic engine, Ockers said. It generated $158.3 million in spending, created 1,640 jobs and $9.1 million in taxes was collected from tourism in 2017, he said.

During the July 17 meeting of the County Commission, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent said she reviewed the state statute for the lodging tax and determined it is necessary to have two-thirds of the cities in a county to pass a resolution for the ballot language.

Previously, the ballot language for renewal of the lodging tax was only passed by the Albany County Commission, Ockers said. During his entire time on the tourism board, he never heard of the lodging tax having to be approved by the cities, he said.

During a special session of the City Council on Tuesday, it approved the ballot language for renewal of the lodging tax. Laramie City Attorney Robert Southard said the City Council will have to continue voting on the ballot language in the future and it should have been done in the past.

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Former probation officer gave drugs to probationer

CASPER (WNE) — A former state probation officer admitted Wednesday to giving opioids to a person on federal probation. 

Allison Bussey, of Casper, pleaded guilty in Natrona County District Court to a single count of delivery of oxycodone, a prescription pain reliever. In exchange for her plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend she serve probation. The amount of time she will spend on probation has not yet been determined. 

In response to Judge Daniel Forgey’s questions, Bussey said she had given the drugs away in her home and did not receive money in return. 

Prosecutors did not allege that Bussey, who worked for the state probation office, ever oversaw the federal probationer to whom she gave the drugs. 

Prosecutors had alleged that Bussey, a probation officer at the time of the crime, gave another person between 10 to 20 of the pills on multiple occasions, according to court documents. 

In a March interview with a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent, Bussey said she had given the other woman three of the pills in late February. 

Defense attorney Don Fuller said after the Wednesday hearing that Bussey no longer works as a probation officer. 

A spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Corrections, which oversees the office of parole, did not immediately respond to a Wednesday morning phone call requesting comment. 

Bussey remained free on bond Wednesday morning. She will be sentenced at a later date.

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Big Horn County valuation up by 6.6 percent

GREYBULL (WNE) — Big Horn County experienced a 6.6 percent increase in assessed property value during the past year, according to figures released recently by Assessor Gina Anderson.

The county’s total assessed valuation grew from $201.5 million to $215.8 million.

While still far below the 10-year high of $307.7 million, which occurred in 2009, this year’s total still represents a rebound of sorts for the county, which had experienced valuations decreases in each of the past two years.

In 2016, it fell from $279.2 million to $215.1 million.

In 2017, the drop was from $215.1 million to $201.5 million.

Anderson chalked this year’s increase up to state-assessed property value, noting that the $15.6 million leap in solid minerals (bentonite, gypsum, sand/gravel), petroleum minerals (oil and natural gas) and railroad/utilities more than made up for a slight decline of about $1.3 million in total local value.

The largest increase in the state-assessed valuation occurred in oil, which rose 22 percent ($40.5 million to $52.1 million), followed by bentonite at 8 percent ($31.8 to $34.5 million) and railroad at 7 percent ($9.7 million to $10.4 million). Anderson said declines were noted in gypsum ($440,098, down from $870,959) and sand/gravel ($56,656, down from $80,205).

Overall, though, the trends are positive, she said.

“Hopefully we will see more of the same in 2019, as the first quarter estimate for oil and gas shows an increase from last year of 36 percent,” she said. “Of course, it needs to stay up for the rest of the year.”