JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Town and county contenders for office were grilled for breakfast at special programs of the Chamber of Commerce the past two mornings. The Chamber’s back-to-back Business Over Breakfast gatherings on Thursday and Friday featured a one-hour forum for all candidates running in the local primary for town council and board of county commissioners.
Town matters took center stage Thursday with five council hopefuls facing off on business issues of the day concerning the Chamber. The Chamber’s Government Community Affairs Committee drafted questions that ranged from sustainable growth, to housing, to taxes.
Incumbent Don Frank leads a field that includes Jessica Sell Chambers (absent from the forum due to prior commitment), Judd Grossman, Arne Jorgensen, Zachary Padilla, and Jonathan Schechter.
Following is short paraphrased synopses on how each candidate responded to the questions.
Q: Are you for or against renewal of the lodging tax? If for, how is it working and how can it be better? If against, how do you replace the $3M or so of funds it provides to the town and county coffers?
The lodging tax is essentially a mitigation. It is very valuable to us. We need that revenue. We are facing reduced state revenues in other areas. If we don’t have the funds this tax generates, where do we find this money?
We can explore imaginative ways within the current statute limitations, and could explore changes to statute formula in the future. And then there is the shoulder season. We have to remember a big part of the community that doesn’t have steady work all year-round.
The challenge to this community is to find a way to be prosperous without growth and job creation creating a death spiral. Too many jobs attracts too many people, [each feeding off the other] until we lose character. I don’t want to use public money to subsidize what is a growth promoter. We need to limit growth as much as we a can. Growth in this valley is no longer a net positive. I would like to see government get smaller and more efficient.
I’m comfortable with the current 40% that goes toward mitigation and how it is spent. The issue is the 60% and finding ways to do marketing in a more unique way. I would like to see us promoting education and identifying to the visitor what makes this community unique: our conservation legacy.
We live in a tourist town. We can’t escape that. I support the lodging tax, both the 60% and how the 40% is used to support infrastructure.
I support the lodging tax and the $3M it generates for mitigation. It would be very difficult for the town and county to replace that. I’m predicting a significant recession coming.
I’m also not convinced that the marketing by TTB has moved the needle much.
Symbolism is a tremendous Achilles heel here. Lodging tax can too easily be blamed for all our problems like traffic.
Q: Is the goal to house 65% of the workforce locally something we should be still trying to achieve? Are recent mitigation rates a step in that direction or are they too high?
No goals are achieved unless goals are set. What’s more important is to keep moving the needle in that direction. Unless we see public and private dollars committed, we may or may not reach that goal. If we can’t do it one way we must do it another. For instance: Should be exploring commuter routes?
We could optimize who lives in our workforce housing. Because not everyone will be able to live in Jackson Hole.
As far as mitigation rates. I felt that more empirical peer review should have been done to see what the effects might be in different cases and scenarios.
Sixty-five percent is a reasonable target. Mitigation rates should be as high as possible for commercial development. The goal is to find a sustainable balance in jobs and places for people to live.
I support public housing for public workers. Private business should be providing their own housing.
I’m passionate about housing. I’ve been working for nearly 30 years on this. Mitigation question is more one of how we implement it. Businesses need predictability. Mitigation, public/private source funding, density—they are all three ways to get there [65%].
Sixty-five percent is a data point in the Comp Plan. It’s a snapshot in time from the Comp Plan of 2012. But it’s something worth pursuing.
The goal of 65% is simply that: a goal. It is a fair goal. I would love to see 100%.
But the fact is there is no law in place for us to solve that problem. There is no law or tax that can actually solve this problem. We need to change what we are doing. We need to change regulation. Government needs to step out of the housing market and allow private developers to step up and help if we can make laws to empower and incentivize them.
We are facing three realities. The first is almost anyone can live here and work here, now more than in any other point in time. The second reality is we are one community spanning three states and two counties. The third is we can solve the housing problem by building more, but at what cost to environmental health and the transportation issues that would result?
Sixty-five percent would be an admirable goal but I’m worried about supply-and-demand working against that.
Q: Would you be for or against managed parking in town?
In Jackson, parking is an asset currently being utilized for free. We live on sales tax. Studies show an optimized rotation [of parking spaces] helps boost sales tax. That’s the stick.
The carrot is the community wants to grow our mass transit system. Managed parking could fund things like START Bus. It works in other communities. I’m not convinced it will be good for Jackson, but I am convinced it can work.
The euphemism confused me for a moment until I realized you are talking about ‘paid’ parking. I’m ambivalent about it. But in order to get more housing we need to relax parking for in areas targeted for density. I think paid parking might be an important component because you have to have paid parking so residents don’t poach parking.
I’m not too excited about giving government a huge pool of money to muck around in.
We have been using parking infrastructure the same way for 50-60 years. It is an asset and it would make a lot of sense looking at $100,000 in potential revenue. The impacts on surrounding neighborhoods are likely to be significant. There will be many impacts and many opportunities. We need to think about it strategically just like the rest of these kind of emotional issues.
I don’t understand why so often this current leadership thinks everything is all or nothing. What’s wrong with starting small? I’ve talked to everyone on the council about this issue except Jim Stanford, who refuses to take my call.
Statistics do show increased sales tax revenue with paid parking. Let’s start with paid parking just on the town square and see how it works.
I don’t know much about parking. I would hope the town would start with: A, is there really a problem? And B, what would be a way to solve it?
This ultimately will be another hot political issue. Town may have to use its bully pulpit to get this through. We’ve had problems with these political issues dividing the town.
Q: Would you be for or against an additional 7thcent of sales tax?
Our unique economic bubble can be pierced. We saw that in 2008. State funds are now dwindling. I know of no citizen who comes to me asking for less Parks and Rec, less road maintenance, etc. Bandwidth for services is high. One way or another we have to meet our priorities.
Why are we talking about this again? Didn’t we vote this down? Is there something I don’t know about? Government is too big already and sucking up a lot of housing with its employees.
I supported the 7thcent previously. If we say as a community these are our priorities, we have to fund them. SPET, property tax, sales tax are all ways. The thing we aren’t doing as well is aligning the discussion with what our priorities are, and building trust in local government.
This is not an easy subject. Personally, I’m not for increased taxes—charging people more for living here. However, if money is being used appropriately, I have no problem with taxes. There is overspending, currently. Spending willy-nilly. We have a massive traffic problem and housing crisis. The overspending is enough. We can use our funds in a better way.
There is no free lunch. Having high caliber employees costs money. As town employees start to age out and we ask for more government services, we are going to have to raise salaries, or cut back on services, or acknowledge employees will live in Star Valley or over in Idaho. How are we going to get the extra money? There are two choices really. Raising sales tax or instituting a property tax. I would be for a sales tax increase.
Q: What are your feelings about Snow King [and proposed expansion]?
Flip back 200 years ago. There was no ski area. It exists because, incrementally, human beings cut down trees. I don’t understand this antagonism about the notion that expansion is somehow unsavory. It’s simply not.
People don’t talk about the band of privately owned land between what the town owns and what is forest, without which there is no ski area. We call it the Town Hill but it doesn’t belong to the town.
I’m concerned about expansion. I don’t want to see new roads in the areas to east and west out of current boundaries. I understand businesses need to survive but I want to see it done incrementally. I’m frustrated when I hear about the resort losing money. I’m not totally convinced about financial viability issues. Are they really losing money? I’ve seen too many times local entities calling on community goodwill and then flipping a property.
Snow King is a great symbol for what this community is facing. A lot of discussion going on about Snow King is premature.
Ski areas lose money. That’s a given. Unfortunately, [various parcels] have been broken off. The building we are in right now (Snow King Hotel) is not part of whole structure. It should be. Goverment should use the heavy hand of government to pull together the privately-owned housing and condos at the base, the hotel, and the mountain so it all is talked about together as originally intended.
I support expansion of Snow King. It should be done as sustainably as possible and in a way that maintains the character of the town hill. I’d like to see us have an increased amount of people using Snow King and not necessarily the Village.
Snow King is the town hill but without some kind of economic viability it cannot survive. I like the process currently. One problem is taking very complicated issues and compacting them into soundbites. I like the Snow King stakeholder process. I think it is comprehensively looking at the issue.