SPET Voting to Start After a Busy Summer
For the past several nights, I have listened to elk bugling in the meadow across the street from our home, a sure sign that summer is giving way to fall. This reminds me that it’s past time to provide an update on the work of the County Commission.
I am enjoying the process of local government more than I anticipated. Of course, it’s an honor and a pleasure to help create the community we want and to protect what we value. The process of doing so is more challenging and nuanced at times – but also more fun and rewarding – than I expected.
I now think of the commission’s duties as falling into three principal buckets: 1) land use planning and policy, 2) setting policy for management of county and joint departments, and 3) determining the county budget. All three are critical functions of local government, and all have their unique nuances.
In late June, the County Commission passed a new annual budget to help meet the needs of our fast-growing community.
This November 5, voters will get the chance to approve additional funding – through the one cent Specific Purpose Excise Tax (SPET) – for 10 proposed measures that the commission and Town Council placed on the ballot this summer.
Below, I’ve given background on both our new budget and the SPET items for you to digest before hitting the ballot box.
Early voting for the SPET begins on Thursday, September 26 at the Teton County Clerk’s Office at 200 S Willow St in Jackson.
A Budget Bump for Our Growing County
On June 25, the County Commission approved our budget for the fiscal year from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. The approximately $45 million general budget constitutes an increase of about 4% over last year.
Teton County has seen rapid growth in population, seasonal population, and visitation in recent years. In my opinion, the community must invest in mitigating the impacts of this rapid growth to our residents, community, wildlife, and shared land and water, so I support this budget increase. Last year, we lowered the mill levy (i.e. rate of the property tax) and held it steady this year.
The county’s budget is a complex document and process, with hundreds or even thousands of moving parts. Click here to view the county's award-winning budget presentation.
I think of the budget in two parts:
First, the bulk of county spending is for the recurring, essential cost of ensuring that Teton County is a healthy, safe, prosperous, and tight-knit community.
This is the day-to-day operation of county departments and joint county/town departments, such as the sheriff’s department, fire/EMS, health, housing, START bus, recycling and solid waste, roads and levees (including pathways), parks and recreation, property tax assessment, tax collection, courts, facilities, administration of elections, land records, bill paying, and the various other essential governmental services.
Major budget increases this year included three new firefighters/emergency medical technicians and a new public health specialist.
Second, a much smaller percentage of the budget is for special policy initiatives and projects.
This year, we provided funds to several important special projects, including:
A task force to make recommendations to address our local child care crisis.
Expediting protection of 1,200 acres of public land scattered along the Snake River that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management owns, but has identified for disposal.
Site planning for a transit center and related community uses at the Stilson Lot (northwest corner of the highway 22/390 intersection).
A new pathway along highway 22 between “downtown” Wilson and the Snake River, and a corridor plan for improving safety and community values along highway 22 through Wilson.
Paving the gravel reach of Spring Gulch Road in order to reduce dust (i.e. air pollution) and run off (i.e. water pollution), as well as engaging the public in creating a plan to reduce traffic and speeds on this road.
Matching funds for a partnership to address deterioration of the Old Pass Road, a highly valued local recreational asset.
Instituting a regional transportation planning organization or authority – an essential step in expanding our commuter bus system.
Creating a program, in partnership with Teton Conservation District, to develop a new source of potable water for the Hoback Nation.
Developing a plan and criteria to guide county funding for our local nonprofit social service organizations.
Looking forward, Wyoming faces a budget crisis due to shrinking revenue from fossil-fuel development. This will by all indications continue to affect public revenue for Teton County and the Town of Jackson.
Now is the time for robust local analysis, dialogue, and action to shore up local finances and create a more stable and efficient tax structure that allocates taxes equitably among property owners and visitors.
10 Funding Opportunities Through SPET Voting
After considerable debate – to bundle or not to bundle – the County Commission and Town Council approved sending 10 separate tax questions to the ballot on November 5, 2019.
I support this approach, so that voters continue to make the decisions on separate up or down votes, rather than vote for or against a package containing multiple questions.
Most importantly, the county and town are presenting voters with 10 critical, well-vetted opportunities to improve the community’s infrastructure, including:
Funding wildlife crossings.
Relocating historic cabins, building a headquarters for the historical society and museum, and helping to protect the Cafe Genevieve block. By the way, kudos to the Jackson Hole Land Trust and the Save the Block campaign! But there is more to do to finish the effort.
Acquiring four wildland firefighting engines that are essential for public safety (as we saw last weekend on Saddle Butte!).
Building a maintenance facility for snowplows, search and rescue and law enforcement vehicles, our new electric buses, and other motor vehicles.
Expanding and improving the recreation center.
Funding safety and storm water management improvements along Gregory Lane.
Improving our recycling facility.
Providing funds to design a new or remodeled courthouse and criminal justice center.
Funding workforce housing.
Protecting and restoring water quality along Cache Creek through town.
I look forward to discussing these important funding initiatives in more detail with residents this fall.
I’ll be back in touch soon with a dedicated update on vital workforce housing, as the County Commission, Town Council and our community continue to debate the best way forward on several housing projects and measures.