Jackson Hole Mountain Resort passes have been on sale since April, but whether season pass holders will get a free bus pass this year is still up in the air.

“Why hasn’t this been resolved?” Teton Village Association Executive Director Melissa Turley asked. “I think everyone agrees that it’s a benefit to the whole community. I mean, yes, it’s a ski pass benefit. But the more people that ride the bus, the less traffic there is for the people that don’t ride the bus. It’s a great deal for all of us.”

Whether pass holders would get bus passes this winter has been an open question since March, when Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Mary Kate Buckley told the Teton County Board of County Commissioners that the resort would not offer the bus pass benefit. The reason, she said then, was because START, which wanted to change the funding formula for those passes, “provided us with a formula to which we cannot agree.”

But somewhere in the past few months, some form of agreement was reached. Buckley told the News&Guide that she sent a check in April to the town of Jackson, which administers START, but that check was returned.

Officials have said over the course of multiple meetings in the past few months that happened because the county commission and Jackson Town Council had not approved the new funding formula for the bus passes.

The two bodies still have not and the issue remains in limbo.

The START Board’s proposed formula for the bus passes is new from years past, and would see Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the town and county split the cost of START ridership to Teton Village that’s a result of season pass holders 50-50.

All told, that’s about 15% of village ridership.

The START Board’s idea behind the split, START Director Darren Brugmann said, is that there’s a public benefit for getting people on the bus to the village.

“They believe it reduces congestion and traffic, improves air quality, [reduces] emissions, [enhances] sense of community,” he said. “We felt it fair to approach this process as a partnership and have the government share the cost of the service.”

Under the START Board’s plan, the resort would not be asked to pay its full share of the split this year, instead paying about a quarter of the community benefit, roughly $17,000.

That’s intended as a ramp to future years, when the resort will be asked to pay its full portion. This year, a down year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that would be about $34,000.

If elected officials support the formula in a future meeting, Buckley said the resort is ready to pay the $17,000.

“We’re ready to go. We’re ready to notify anyone who’s already bought a pass that we’re adding it back in,” Buckley said. “It just seems like it was an unfortunate procedural glitch in aligning when we wanted to communicate our passes with the budgeting process.”

The county, too, appears ready to move ahead.

Chair Natalia D. Macker told the News&Guide she thinks the commission is generally supportive of START’s proposal, which tracks with commissioners’ past comments on the plan.

An aye from the town, though, may require some conversation. Mayor Pete Muldoon and Councilor Jim Stanford have questioned the formula in the past, wondering whether the ramp up and the cost more generally is appropriate. Councilor Arne Jorgensen said Tuesday that he generally supports the START Board’s recommendation, but wants to mull over the cost phasing for the resort before making a final decision.

The issue should come up again Monday at a joint town and county meeting, where staff will also present a proposal to iron out a multi-year agreement for the pass holder bus pass rate.

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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