The fast-approaching deadline for officials to finalize a ballot, asking voters to approve a penny of sales tax for specific town and county projects, is Wednesday.
Officials are cutting it close with a meeting Monday, just two days before the deadline. The decision about what to include on the November 2019 Specific Purpose Excise Tax ballot stalled during the last meeting.
Teton County commissioners and Jackson Town councilors return to the table Monday to attempt to reach a consensus that has eluded them so far in hours of contentious meetings.
Dominating discussions is the question of whether to propose a list of individual projects voters can vote up or down, or whether to — for the first time — deviate from that ballot structure by “bundling” various items together into combined ballot questions.
Some officials favor a single slate of as many as 10 projects, while others are open to grouping two or three “bundles” of several related projects.
At the last SPET meeting on July 1, officials failed to reach a compromise.
“It would appear we’re going nowhere,” Commissioner Mark Barron said. “We have a job to do, and this is taking forever to get a ballot initiative.”
If they can’t reach an agreement, there’s no SPET election, Deputy County Attorney Keith Gingery said. Projects like $22 million for an expansion of the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center, $10 million for wildlife crossings and $1.6 million for wildland fire trucks are on the line.
The debate has been divided mostly along town versus county lines, with the Town Council favoring a bundle plan and most county commissioners seeking an “a la carte” approach. While officials floated several ideas for compromises, none have won enough support to be approved.
Commissioners Mark Newcomb, Luther Propst and Barron have all dug in their heels in favor of a totally a la carte ballot, as voters have seen in past SPET elections.
“I think we really have to trust the community, and I think the community would be extremely disappointed if they didn’t sense that trust from us as elected officials,” Newcomb said. “It’s about the sacredness of the ballot box and the trust in the voter and trust in our democratic process.”
Mayor Pete Muldoon, on the other hand, said he won’t consider an a la carte ballot “at all.” After voters rejected ballot measures for housing and transportation, like a vehicle maintenance facility, in 2016 and 2017, Councilor Arne Jorgensen said a new approach to fund these priorities through SPET is needed.
“If we’re not willing to do something different, if we’re not willing to take a risk, I’m not sure I’d expect a different outcome,” Jorgensen said.
Most public comment has favored an “a la carte” ballot, with many voters threatening to vote “no” on any bundles.
“As a voter, I have the right to choose whether I approve of each project,” Dianne Budge wrote.
“The one thing I’ve always liked about the SPET tax is that I had a voice in the decision of what projects should be funded and when,” Karilyn Brodell wrote. “Now you want to take away my right to make my own choices. I find this insulting and condescending.”
But Jackson resident Candra Day said she changed her mind in favor of bundling after listening to elected officials.
“I realized that we don’t need to allow voters (meaning me) to cherry-pick the projects that personally benefit themselves, as voters often do,” she wrote in a Guest Shot in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. “We don’t need to pit one need against another.