Depending on the outcome of the SPET election on Aug. 16, and a vote to determine a general excise tax on Nov. 8, candidates for Jackson Town Council could have vastly different experiences in office.
With so much on the line they must develop plans for both scenarios.
Anne Schuler is the only candidate for Town Council who has experience in the financial world. She worked with JP Morgan and Citibank for 15 years, currently sits on the board of directors for the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center as treasurer and runs Brilliantly Done cleaning service.
She is strongly in favor of both tax proposals.
“Both the SPET and the general revenue tax allow visitors in the valley to help pay for critical community needs,” she said. “If the SPET doesn’t pass there is really no good way to fund the [Budge Slide] stabilization efforts. I would hate to see a decline in services as we dig into our budget to fund the stabilization when a SPET could fully fund this project in six months.”
In terms of the general sales tax, Schuler said that funds are critical to improve the town’s housing and transportation issues.
“I would like to see the town expand START,” she said. “I think the first step is to build a maintenance facility, then to expand service to Victor, Driggs and Star Valley and to add service to Melody [Ranch] and Rafter J.”
If Teton County is serious about trying to house 65 percent of its workforce, “the more tools that we have, the more effective we will be in creating workforce housing,” she said.
“With money from the tax, the town could fund the acquisition of land and work with a private developer to build workforce rentals.”
If citizens vote the general sales tax down, Schuler has a Plan B.
“My preference is to see if we could adopt a real estate transfer tax on sales over a certain threshold, say $1.5 to $2 million,” she said. “This would target second homeowners who tend to require services such as landscaping, caretaking and housekeeping.”
Stanford was elected to the Town Council in 2012. He also serves as the liaison to the Transportation Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation board.
He supports both tax proposals as a way to fund projects during a statewide recession.
“Our community hasn’t changed its tax structure in 20 or 25 years,” he said, “but the cost of providing services and demand for those services have risen dramatically.
“Passing the SPET in August and a penny of general sales tax in November will keep our tax rate the same at 6 percent, while providing a more effective way of funding local government,” he said.
“This SPET vote is crucial for the town’s 10-year capital projects budget, which is projecting a deficit in coming years due to cuts in state funding,” Stanford said. “If the town has to pay for stabilizing the landslide entirely through the capital program, all other projects that many in the community value — pathways, sidewalks, making Gregory Lane a complete street — will be pushed back even further.
“We need to restore full access and services to roughly 50 to 60 of our neighbors who live up there,” he said. “We need to protect the public roadway and utilities and protect public safety. Litigating who is ‘responsible’ for the landslide would take a lot of time and money, and the fact is our community made many decisions, dating back 50 to 70 years, to get us into this situation.”
As for the general sales tax, he said, “We’ve heard a loud and clear message from the community to take action on housing and transportation. We can’t do that without additional revenue, and the general sales tax is preferable to SPET because it’s a steady, recurring source of funding.
“If the general sales tax is not passed, our housing and transportation problems will continue to get worse,” Stanford said.
Chambers doesn’t have experience in political office, but, she said, she understands the job’s nuances well. She worked with nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations, was a caucus leader for Bernie Sanders in Wyoming and was recently elected as a National Democratic Delegate for Wyoming.
“With regard to both taxes,” she said, “it’s better to try and avert a full-scale catastrophe than try and recover from one.
“Unfortunately, with housing we’ve already hit emergency status for many people. Neither of these issues are going away on their own, at least not without harming our community significantly,” Chambers said.
“Government is obligated to maintain the safety, security and smooth functioning of the community,” she said. “Both the landslide and the housing crisis threaten safety, security and efficient functioning.
“Not passing the SPET tax would be highly irresponsible. I’ll cross that bridge when I must, but that would be a serious shirk of responsibility that could cost lives,” she said.
“I’d use the general sales tax to acquire land and continue to partner with other groups to build workforce residences, while simultaneously streamlining START service with the community’s developing needs and goals; housing and transportation go hand in hand.”
As state revenue plummets and local budgets suffer, she said, “to the rest of Wyoming we look like fat cats squandering revenue potential others could only dream of.”
Hailey Morton Levinson
Hailey Morton Levinson is about to finish her first term on the Town Council, where she serves as vice mayor. She also serves on the Travel and Tourism board and the boards of Energy Conservation Works, the Chamber of Commerce and the Pathways Task Force.
She supports both taxes as a means to reach the ends that the community worked to develop in the comprehensive plan.
“I support the West Broadway landside question on SPET because funds will go toward fixing and securing public infrastructure — public safety, water and sewer lines, the road, pump house. These SPET taxes will be collected during some of our high months when visitors pay a large portion,” Levinson said.
“If the SPET is not passed, we will have to push back other capital improvement projects,” she said, “including sidewalk and road infrastructure, or look at other services that may need to be reduced. We may have to borrow further from our sewer and water funds of which we are already doing so.”
The community has set priorities through the comprehensive plan, Levinson said. “When we look at funding those priorities, we know a dedicated funding source that can be applied to all aspects of our needs.”
A sixth cent of general sales tax, Levinson said, will allow the town to address its needs.
“We can deploy funds to build shovel-ready projects, review further partnerships with private nonprofits and developers, and purchase land,” she said. “All of these efforts will be important steps in keeping our community character intact.
“Additionally,” she said, “we still have a number of capital projects that need to be funded, including the Public Works maintenance shop and the second phase of our START facility, which includes housing.
“If the general sales tax is not passed, I would propose we look at SPET again for some of these capital projects.”
A former planning commissioner for the town of Jackson and founder of Planet Jackson Hole, Grossman has closely followed the town’s politics since he arrived in Jackson in 1980.
He is strongly against increasing the general sales tax, but supports the use of SPET initiatives.
“I’m still deliberating about the Budge Slide SPET tax proposal,” he said. “I understand that the hillside has been weakened by human activity for decades, but the town still hasn’t made a clear and compelling case for why it is the responsibility of taxpayers to fix the slide.”
For over 30 years SPET has allowed the community to vote on each proposal, he said.
“This is a powerful democratic process that compels government to convince us that there is solid coherent reasoning for how our hard earned money is spent,” he said. “The general excise tax increase is being touted as a solution to our housing and traffic problems, but is actually just a doubling-down on past failed policies.”
The way to make a real difference in our workforce housing problem, he said, is to implement a Workforce Housing Overlay in the walkable urban commercial core where there will be significant density bonuses for employment-based, deed-restricted housing.
“Direct public subsidies of private sector workforce housing is corporate welfare,” he said, “and at the rate of $100,000 to $400,000 in cash subsidies per unit we will waste millions of dollars.
“The way to make a real difference in our traffic problem is to avoid expanding market rate commercial and market rate residential zoning rights. START can be expanded incrementally based on demand rather than the current ‘build it and they will ride’ policy,” Grossman said.
“Defeating the general excise tax increase and leaving SPET in place will allow us to use SPET for targeted housing and transportation capital projects such as public sector employee housing, and the purchase of buses and vans for START.”