Council hopefuls eye town money squeeze
Challengers support law-enforcement consolidation.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 22, 2008
When it comes to trimming the town budget, challengers for two open seats on the Jackson Town Council said look no further than law enforcement.
Greg Miles and Louise Lasley said the town needs to try to consolidate law enforcement with the county to save money.
“We have lots of redundancy,” Miles said. “That is a classic example where if we could work towards consolidation of town and county services, we could save a lot of money.”
Lasley also said it would be a priority if she is elected.
“I believe that is one of the first areas the town and county should look at for consolidation,” she said.
Incumbent Abe Tabatabai said he did not believe the town could sustain the trend of drastic increases in the budget for the police and fire departments but said those departments should look at more systemic cuts rather than consolidation.
Incumbent Mark Obringer said he thought increases in those departments’ budget were warranted.
“I would suggest it is a health, safety and welfare issue and the increases in the budget is the service demand of what they are dealing with,” he said. “It is simplistic to say we should cut their budget when the number of calls is increasing substantially.”
Though social-service budgets are increasing as fast, if not faster, than law enforcement and emergency services, all the candidates said they generally support the town’s current level of social-service funding.
Overall, the town expenditures are down about 3 percent from $12.8 million in 2008 to $12.53 for 2009. The town remains about $145,000 over budget, something councilors could choose to address when they revisit the budget after the election. Sales taxes fund about 65 percent of town government, and councilors had formulated this year’s budget assuming a modest 4 percent increase in sales-tax revenues. Through August, town sales tax revenue was up about 9 percent, but officials do not expect that trend to continue and say the town could see declines in sales tax.
Candidates differed a bit on ways the town could increase revenue, though none of them supported levying a property tax except as a last resort.
Obringer suggested trying to pass a lodging tax, something that has failed in the past because of requirements that 60 percent of the revenue be spent on promotion of the tourist economy. He said he felt that under existing state statute, the town could use that money to fund the START bus system, freeing up the $400,000 the town gives to START for other uses.
“I would say probably what we need to do is look for revenue streams from the people that cause the impact,” he said. “That says to me we need to look at a lodging tax, because [tourists] are the people that cause the most impact.”
Lasley said she thought the town should reconsider adding another 1 percent of sales tax for the same reason.
“For years, what I have heard is our revenue is based so much on the tourist economy and [the tax] would not really hurt our residents,” she said. “It seems to me that is a logical place to look.”
Miles said he supported both the lodging tax and the seventh cent on the dollar of sales tax as viable options for the town to pursue. He also said the town could recoup some expenses with downtown parking meters but bristled at characterizations of meters as row after row of metal posts.
“The modern parking meter is a kiosk where you get a ticket and put it on your car,” he said. “People would then have a choice of parking in the garage or go downtown and paying for parking.”
Tabatabai said the lodging tax could be an option but he thought the state needed to make changes to the statute to free up how the funds could be used. He also said he would lobby the state to allow a real-estate transfer tax,
But he said the best way to meet town needs was to cut spending. “We need to tighten belts,” he said. “Today I cannot see taxing my constituents any more than they are already paying.”