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Funding START: New report identifies options and concerns

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The START Funding Work Group reported to the joint town/county board at its meeting Monday afternoon. The group identified successes, challenges and potential funding sources moving forward.

In light of recent defeats at the polls for funding START capital projects, town and county leaders appointed a working group in July 2017 to recommend equitable sources of funding for public transit into the future. The working group was asked to make recommendations to electeds of potential community solutions for sustainable and recurring public transportation funding.

Among other objectives, the working group began with an agreed goal of increasing START ridership 25% by 2020 (or 1.25M riders) in order to significantly impact traffic congestion in the community and meet the goals and benchmarks as stated in the 2015 Integrated Transportation Plan (ITP). This goal requires approximately $6.4 million per year for operating and capital expenditures to implement. According to the working group, START recognizes the need for service improvements but START needs funding to improve service.

Where will START funding come from?

Traffic on Broadway July 2017.

The group identified four potential sources of revenue for START. They included a short-term residential rental fee, a portion of fees generated by demand-managed parking, an employer transit pass program, and a rental car fee.

Teton Village employs a short-term rental fee with great success for mitigating its development impacts. A similar version could generate an estimated $1 million by adding a fee to all short-term rentals in the town and county. Assistant town attorney Lea Colasuonno promised officials she would look into the legal ramifications of imposing such a fee.

The working group also identified demand-managed parking as both increasing demand for public transit ridership and a possible source of revenue. Up to $1 million could be generated through rates collected for paid parking.

What if all employers in the county were required to purchase transit passes for their employees to encourage public transportation ridership? A similar model is in place for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and other employers in Teton Village. The tax-free employee benefit could generate $1 to $1.5 million a year, according to the working group.

Finally, the group thought about targeting those directly responsible for adding to traffic congestion through a car rental fee. “Currently, rental cars pay no impact fee locally, even though the high volume of rented cars is a source of road deterioration as well as road congestion and traffic problems,” the report stated. The initiative could generate about $500,000, annually.

Urgency to identify funding sources

Much of the discussion concerned how far town and county leaders wanted to go with Transportation Demand Management (TDM). Town manager Bob McLaurin admitted, “TDM at the Village has been very, very successful. We might need legal help on a short-term rental fee. Some of these you could look at tomorrow. We can come back to you with a timeline and priority list in 30 days or so.”

Elected officials admitted to feeling on a fast-track to get something identified as far as funding, especially given START’s lofty goals and voter reluctance thus far to support the bus system.

Another area of concern that worried Hailey Morton Levinson and others is START’s dependence on revenue generated by the Lodging Tax (21% of START’s funding comes from the Travel & Tourism Board). Should the tax fail on a renewal vote this fall it would leave START scrambling for funding.

McLaurin assured electeds the portion of funding covered by the lodging tax would continue to come from the town, but that would mean diverting money from other areas of need.

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