START still in search of funding alternatives

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Seeking ways to identify long-term funding solutions for START Bus, town and county leaders directed staff to look into the feasibility of several options offered by a 12-person working group. START director Darren Brugmann and transportation coordinator Tom Newland presented recommendations from the START Funding Work Group and the START board at a joint information meeting (JIM) yesterday afternoon.

Potential revenue streams identified by START included:

  • Short-Term Residential Rental Fee
  • Managed Parking
  • Lodging Tax
  • Rental Car Fee
  • Formation of Regional Transportation Organization
  • Transit Impact Fee

START Board deemed all the options to be equally high on a priority list and worthy of pursuit, with the understanding that none of the funding options alone would fully address its funding needs.

Tacking a fee on to short-term rentals was identified by START reps as way to directly target visitors. The measure could generate an estimated $1 million, annually. Commissioner Paul Vogelheim expressed concern that, with a lodging tax already in place, an additiona fee on short-term rentals could be perceived as “double-dipping.”

Newland estimated a managed parking system, if implemented in downtown Jackson, could yield about a million dollars a year. In addition to generating revenue for START, paid parking would also help reduce congestion on town roads. Newland admitted there is a “perception that paid parking hinders commercial sales,” but opposition, while loud at first, “usually dies down shortly after implementation,” he said.

Mayor Pete Muldoon suggested managed parking be removed from the list of potential revenue sources for START.

“The goal of managed parking, in my mind, is not to raise revenue. It is to reduce congestions,” Muldoon said. “I don’t want to create even the idea that this is to raise revenue.”

Councilman Jim Stanford agreed that targeting parking meter quarters for START might appear as “predisposing the outcome” of the managed parking discussion that is still currently being studied by the town.

The joint board opted to remove managed parking from the list of revenue sources identified by the START board.

Newland called the lodging tax “a critical, existing revenue source that needs to be maintained.” He added, “It is said that the lodging tax helps visitors pay for the impacts they create. This existing revenue source helps fund START and needs to be retained or replaced to continue transit operations at expected levels.”

The transit line operates at a deficit and relies heavily on funds generated by the lodging tax.

“Informal polling shows tax is at risk of failing,” Newland stated. “Some voters see it as a tourist generator; but it is actually a tourist mitigator.”

An estimated $500,000 could be gleaned from a rental car fee. The idea cooled somewhat when airport director Jim Elwood informed town and county officials that FAA restrictions would likely not allow a fee to be tacked onto rentals from the airport unless the funds derived directly benefitted the airport.

A creation of a Regional Transportation Organization, or RTA, intrigued some electeds. The thought is such a regional collaboration as far as mass transit could make START look better when applying for federal grants.

Finally, a transit impact fee on new construction will be explored as a means to help fund infrastructure costs. It is proposed as a one-time fee collected at building permit issuance that would go directly to transit-related capital improvements or new bus purchases.

It would be easy to implement and would require no change to state statute, according to Newland.

The joint board directed staff to continue to explore legal ramifications and viability of the funding options presented, minus managed parking. Councilman Stanford also convinced his colleagues to agree to ask staff to look into working with resort partners regarding resort district revenue.