Elected officials discuss General Penny, Chamber survey finds opinions split

JACKSON, Wyo. — This election cycle voters will decide on the General Penny tax, which refers to the proposed adding of one cent to the sales tax, bringing the sales tax to seven cents, town, and countywide. The town and county estimate this tax will bring in 7 million per year in additional revenue. 

The Ballot item will read, “Shall Teton County, Wyoming be authorized to impose an additional one percent general revenue sales and use tax to be used for general revenue purposes.” Voters will choose, for the county sales and use tax or against the county sales and use tax.

The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce conducted a short survey to gather community opinion about the proposed tax, collecting data from 167 participants. On Sept. 30 the Teton County Library held a forum on the “General Penny.”

Questions during the forum were directed to Johnathan Schechter, Jim Stanford, and Arne Jorgensen from the town and Luther Propst, Mark Newcomb, and Mark Barron from the County. Every official except Mark Barron, agree with the seventh cent tax. 

The tax would be implemented for four years, and then brought back to the community for a vote to either maintain the 7 cents, or go back to the 6 cents. “Somehow we need to plug a 4.8 million dollar hole either by new revenue or by budget cuts,” Jonathan Schechter said. 

The chamber survey found that 54% of respondents will vote no, with their main reason being that the allocation of the revenue is unclear. The officials addressed spending transparency concerns during the forum. 

Mark Newcomb said, “All of that stuff is public, all of our budget negotiations now are public and anyone who wants to find out what revenue came in can go to the treasurer and ask, anyone who wants to find out where that revenue went can go to the clerk and ask. The commissioners are accountable by-election, the treasurer and clerk are elected officials.” 

 Arne Jorgensen echoed this by saying, “transparency and accountability is absolutely critical.  The accountability is on us, the elected officials, holding the tool hostage will not ensure accountability, don’t vote for us if we are doing things incorrectly. The town is setting up a peer-review committee within our priority-based budget process that would also help bring in additional voices within our community. “ 

The 46% of respondents who voted yes in the survey, cited they understand more income is needed because of state funds being reduced. The elected officials discussed what types of programs would be cut if the general penny. They all pointed out that its hard to say what would be cut first, but they agreed that housing, human services, and transportation could see cuts.  Arne Jorgenson said, “it will hurt across the board in for the town.” 

The town and county estimate that 55% of the tax would be collected from outside visitors.  Mark Barron, the only elected official present at the forum who opposes the tax warned against this saying, “a 17% increase in sales tax is what we are looking at with 1 penny. Yes, the visitors will be responsible for about 55% of the gross revenue. The locals will be responsible for 100% of that 17% increase.” 

Half of the businesses that responded to the chamber survey said they do not believe the additional tax would affect consumer spending at their business. This was a question the officials addressed during the forum, they agreed that they did not believe the extra cent would hurt small businesses. Jim Sanford said, “it’s not that one more penny on your latte is going to break the bank. Paying an extra dollar on your hundred dollar dinner is not going to break the bank for most people. Health and human services will take a huge hit.” The other officials echoed this sentiment, Luther Propst cited the sales tax in Victor Idaho is 6.5%, he also mentioned that food bought in a grocery store is exempt from this tax. 

Mark Barron did warn that a general penny tax would become the norm if passed, saying,  “Government is a living breathing organism that grows. Once an organization begins spending and begins getting hooked into that spending, those programs that they are going to begin expanding, conservation programs, affordable housing programs, they’re not going to want to give up revenue in four years.” 

The complete General Penny Forum, presented by the Teton County Library and the League of Women Voters can be found here.

Given the relatively even split of responses the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce will abstain from a position on this ballot initiative. The complete survey, including graphs, can be found here.

About The Author

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.

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