This article has been updated to reflect that elected officials will not take public comment about SPET at the Monday joint meeting. Commission chair Natalia Macker said public comment on SPET projects was accepted and closed at a June 11 meeting. —Eds.
Just 17 days remain before town and county elected officials must finalize the ballot for a November 2019 Specific Purpose Excise Tax election.
They will meet Monday to hash out final details of what projects to put before voters. Monday’s meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. at the county commission chambers at 200 S. Willow St.
The 10 elected town and county officials have generally agreed upon asking voters to support collecting four years worth of projects with an optional 1% sales tax. The sales tax gives elected officials a way to collect money from both visitors and residents in contrast to property taxes, which accounts for much of the county’s revenue.
Projects currently being considered add up to $77 million and include, for example, $22 million for an expansion of the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center, $1.6 million for fire trucks and $18.5 million for a vehicle maintenance facility.
But the central question for elected officials has to do with how much choice to give voters when it comes to picking winners and losers.
Historically, a list of separate projects has appeared on the SPET ballot for voters to individually decide “yea” or “nay.”
Now some town and county officials are pushing to “bundle” all of the projects into a single, all-or-nothing ballot question. All five Jackson town councilors are in favor of a bundled ballot that combines 10 projects into one ballot question, saying all 10 are critically needed.
“I think the voters are smart,” Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson said. “I think they’ll understand why we want to bundle it all. All these items together move our community forward. They’re needs, not wants.”
Several county commissioners, like Mark Barron and Mark Newcomb, strongly favor the “a la carte” approach that has been used in the past.
“I really look at the institution of the ballot box as something really high and something really respected,” Newcomb said. “I trust the public.”
Others have suggested a compromise: presenting two or three “bundles” of projects.
In Commissioner Greg Epstein’s proposed compromise, each of two or three bundles would be “anchored” by a popular item with broad support, like the rec center expansion or wildlife crossings. For example, the rec center expansion would be paired with Gregory Lane infrastructure and downtown water quality improvements. Or wildlife crossings could be bundled with the vehicle maintenance facility and planning for courthouse upgrades.
“I just feel like the all-or-nothing approach is a really frightening proposition,” Epstein said. “I also think ‘a la carte’ will get the nice bright, shiny objects voted in, but these core needs may get overlooked again.”
Other counties in Wyoming, such as Albany, Crook, Laramie and Lincoln, have bundled SPET items in the past.