With Councilor Arne Jorgensen saying he wanted to begin “priority-driven budget” discussions now, in order to take advantage of the experience of outgoing Mayor Pete Muldoon and Councilor Jim Stanford, the Town Council has begun weighing budgetary issues in advance of the normal January budget workshop.
“One of the reasons that I’m looking to starting the discussion now with these summary sheets with these programs is that we’re able to take the benefit of both the mayor and Councilman Stanford’s experience over the last four or eight years [respectively], because I think there’s value there and they’ve worked with these different programs for a long time,” Jorgensen said at the onset of this past Wednesday’s meeting, referring to the 39 core services and programs that comprise the town’s budget, identified by town staff.
Community Development Director Tyler Sinclair, who fostered the discussion and along with Town Manager Larry Pardee helped answer councilors’ questions, acknowledged the council would not have time to address all 39 town services. Instead, he asked the mayor and each councilor to name their top two priorities among those 39, compiled that list and opened the floor for discussion and questions of the seven programs identified. Muldoon and Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson chose to only focus on one issue each.
The seven programs discussed were: housing (Jorgensen); police patrol (Muldoon); health and human services (Morton Levinson); public engagement (Councilor Jonathan Schechter); special events (Schechter); START/transportation (Jorgensen and Stanford); and streets and sidewalks (Stanford).
The first half of the approximately four-hour meeting was spent predominantly on Mayor Muldoon’s discussion of the police budget and their day-to-day activities. (Read a full report on the police discussion in this week’s Jackson Hole News&Guide.)
However, prior to the police discussion, Jorgensen, who has decades of experience related to housing, spoke on that issue.
“I picked housing because ... it’s really at the core of, if not all, certainly many of the programs and the work that we do as a town,” Jorgensen said. “And the ability of our town to maintain its sense of community is, at the end of the day, connected to housing.”
Jorgensen discussed the importance of both preservation and also affordable housing for the workforce. He said he thinks funding to this point has been inadequate, but added that public funding is only one of multiple tools in the town’s housing and preservation tool belt.
Next, Muldoon discussed the various duties the police department undertakes that he suggested might be better handled by other agencies and organizations, along with police involvement with programs not directly related to enforcing the law. Programs specifically cited by Muldoon included the TIPS training program, in which police lead training for bar employees to serve safely; Camp Postcard, designed to give kids positive outdoor experiences and bonds with police; “Coffee with a Cop”; the active shooter program; and teaching bank employees how to prevent bank robberies, among others. Muldoon moved at the end of the meeting to have Pardee instruct town staff to eliminate the police department’s involvement in these various endeavors, but his motion was defeated 4-1.
In the afternoon, Morton Levinson led discussions on the recently approved health and human services plan and how they could “highlight that more,” as well as helping HHS organizations not under the town’s purview find ways to bridge their upcoming funding gap.
Schechter spoke about how the town engages and accurately educates the public about important matters, and the town’s involvement with special events. Also discussed were Stanford’s concerns regarding START service, with a focus on service to and from Teton Village and who should foot that bill, and snow removal from streets and sidewalks.
The council meets Monday afternoon for a work session, and again Monday evening for their regularly scheduled meeting. Those will be Muldoon and Stanford’s final meetings on the council.