JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A specific purpose excise tax will go to the voters in November as town and county electeds were able to agree yesterday on an a la carte approach to listing 10 SPET items at a total of $77 million.
If voters approve any of the 10 initiatives, the penny tax will remain in place on county sales tax. At the current rate of collection (about $13-15M a year) it would take more than five years to pay off the tab should they all pass.
In the end, it was the town that backed down, clearing the impasse that developed over how the town wanted to get certain capital projects like a maintenance facility (previously branded as a START Bus barn) and sidewalks for Gregory Lane (now branded as a more holistic makeover).
Jim Stanford opened the meeting Monday waving a white flag of sorts, saying, “At this point, I’m trying to be as efficient as I can for everyone’s time.”
Mayor Pete Muldoon, however, showed no signs he was going to budge.
“I think I’ve made myself fairly clear on this issue,” he said.
How they voted
After some initial wrangling, it got down to voting. Not before commissioner Mark Barron suggested $5.5M in community housing funds be removed to get SPET down to a more manageable $64M ballot.
“I do believe the citizens of this county would be more inclined to support a four-year ballot rather than going out five years with a $77 million ballot,” Barron said.
Economics wizard and town councilman Jonathan Schechter countered that with any growth at all a $77M SPET could be paid down in four years.
“We all have concerns about these passing—particularly because Gregory Lane and the vehicle maintenance facility are absolutely critical. They may not be glamorous, they may not draw the support of a pack the way that some of the other more high-profile ones, but they are absolutely critical to the town in many ways,” Schechter said. “So, my concern is that if we are going to do this is can’t just be the town alone. We are all going to have to get out there and do education. We are also going to have to look to the community and get out there. I would ask people in the community to get behind all these items because we are Jackson (W)Hole with a ‘W.’”
Councilman Arne Jorgensen still wanted to talk about bundling, this time referring to it as “pairing.” He wanted to pair the popular wildlife crossings with the albatross maintenance facility, and the wildland fire apparatus with Gregory Lane.
Commissioner Greg Epstein said he might go along with that but commissioner Luther Propst again shut down the notion of bundling items.
“In terms of building voter confidence and voter trust, I support a la carte completely and I cannot support anything that shifts the way we ask voters questions at this point,” Propst said.
Before calling the vote, Mayor Muldoon again wanted his say.
“This idea that we will appeal to the public to come out and support all of these items and for us electeds to go out and campaign… We are here to create policy,” Muldoon said. “I don’t think it is appropriate to require either of these boards, certainly our board, to be required to go out with their limited resources and capacities and limited free time to campaign on behalf of these. I’m willing to do it but if that’s what we are relying on I think we are being naïve.”
The Mayor continued, “People in the community working 2-3 jobs like I am are going to be cut out of this conversation, unfortunately. I’m a little bit disappointed by the lack of compromise on the part of the county. I support all of these projects as a package. I do not support them by themselves.”
The county passed the SPET ballot unanimously. The town passed the SPET ballot 3-2 with Jorgensen and Muldoon opposed.
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