1 cent divides candidates
Among eight vying for Jackson council, a range of views emerges about a 7th cent of sales tax.
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 15, 2012
Only one candidate running for the Jackson Town Council, Phillip Cameron, says he could support a general sales tax increase to help with the town’s tight budget.
Cameron’s position emerged as some town and county officials have mulled a 1-cent hike in sales tax. The increase would raise the tax from 6 to 7 percent.
Other candidates, including Steve Harrington, Jim Stanford and Emy diGrappa, might support the extra penny of tax to help pay for an increasingly expensive slate of projects on the specific purpose excise tax ballot.
The idea of the increase was floated by county commissioners earlier this summer and then by Town Council member Bob Lenz during budget discussions and debate over the specific purpose excise tax ballot.
Under state law, the extra penny could be used to bolster the tight operating budgets of the town and county or to help pay for an increasingly expensive list of capital projects headed for the ballot.
Cameron said that recent sales tax numbers for the town are encouraging, but if that were to change he would consider a 1-cent increase to pay for essential town programs.
“First, I’d obviously want to take a hard look at the budget and tighten things where we can,” Cameron said. “But then I would consider a seventh [cent] of sales tax in order to maintain infrastructure and key services to the community.”
He said he would use the money on long-term infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
“To me, this seventh cent of sales tax is preferable to an increase in property tax as it distributes the obligation across all users, rather than just residents,” he said.
Harrington said he would consider using the tax to help pay for the cleanup of the old landfill at Horsethief Canyon, which is estimated to cost $17.1 million for phase one.
“I would look at the seventh cent as an emergency proposal that would help the community with the state- imposed deadline to remediate the landfill,” Harrington said.
He said he would rather use the voter-approved funds to pay for the landfill and the bonds needed to begin the work, rather than use extra money from the town and county’s general funds.
“I would much rather go the SPET route with the understanding that it is only for this one emergency,” he said.
While Stanford, another candidate, generally does not support the tax increase, he said he would consider the extra penny if bonding costs for the landfill turn out to be expensive.
“I would consider the idea as a way to save the community a significant sum,” Stanford said. “But I’d probably want to see the seventh cent expire once collections are done for the last slate of projects. That would bring our tax rate back down to 6 cents in about two years.”
Stanford remains skeptical of the purchase of the Forest Service parcel, which is estimated to cost $13.5 million including road construction. He said he would oppose the extra penny of tax if it is needed for the purchase.
Similarly, diGrappa said she supports the additional penney of tax only if it is temporary and pays for current infrastructure projects.
“The seventh cent would be short-term to pay for important projects such as the landfill closure, where issuing bonds is an expensive alternative,” diGrappa said.
She touted the benefits of raising more money from tourists, who she says contribute 45 percent of sales tax revenue.
“We are leaving money on the table that we should be collecting in sales tax dollars from tourists,” she said.
Candidate Kelly Egan generally opposes an increase, but said there could be some circumstances in which it would be necessary.
“I oppose raising taxes absent a compelling need,” Egan said. She would consider the extra tax if there were a specific infrastructure failure that required immediate investment, but said the town’s purchase of the Forest Service property is not a compelling need.
“It would be shortsighted of our elected leaders to tie up SPET funding through 2018, but raising taxes is not necessarily the solution,” she said of adding the penny to pay for the projects that could be on the upcoming ballot. She said the town should live within its means.
“The choice I would make is to cut the Forest Service project from SPET consideration and keep our tax at 6 cents.”
Incumbent council candidate Mark Obringer said he doesn’t support a seventh cent of sales tax for general revenue.
“The town has weathered the economic downfall without an additional tax and is in an excellent financial position,” Obringer said.
He did say town and county officials and staff should have the opportunity to present more information to the public before the conversation on adding a second penny of SPET moves forward.
Two candidates are against any form of tax increase.
“Either way, I would oppose it,” candidate Jim Genzer said of increasing the tax for capital projects or for general revenue. “I am afraid that once we started using an additional penny tax it would never go away, as there would always be an excuse to use it again and again.”
Candidate Hailey Morton shared his view.
“We need to prioritize our goals and spend within our means, and can do so without further taxing our citizens,” Morton said. She said she is not in favor of a seventh cent tax.
Town and county officials are scheduled to approve ballot language for the specific purpose excise tax ballot at a meeting Thursday.