There’s a lot for voters to decide at the polls in November, especially when it comes to how residents want to be taxed.
Elected officials have proposed a redirection of funding for the ballot, suggesting a short-lived specific purpose excise tax to pay for the Budge Drive landslide, which would dovetail into a 1 percent general sales tax. Should both measures be approved, the overall tax would remain at 6 percent but SPET would be extinguished. At least for now.
The proposed 1 percent general sales tax is proposed to feed into a Community Priorities Fund to pay for transportation and affordable housing initiatives.
The primary is in five weeks. Three Democrats and three Republicans are vying for seats. The primary will determine which two from each party will advance to the Nov. 8 ballot. Voters must declare a party to vote in the primary.
The two seats opening on the board are held by Chairwoman Barbara Allen, a Republican, and Commissioner Natalia Macker, a Democrat.
Allen announced in March that she would not seek re-election. Macker, who was appointed to her seat after Melissa Turley resigned, is running for her seat.
This week the News&Guide asked candidates to answer questions about taxes, including which types of taxes they support and which projects they’d support should the 1 penny pass in the general election.
Greg Epstein, 45, is a Jackson Hole native who is head of production for Teton Gravity Research. He’s also served on the Friends of Pathways board of trustees for the past four years, taking the role of president in October.
Epstein said he’s in favor of the 1 percent general revenue sales tax because it leverages funds from tourism.
“We need to leverage the 4 million people who visit Jackson Hole on a yearly basis to help support our public infrastructure and community needs,” Epstein said, “so I do support the Community Priorities Fund.”
Should the measure pass in November, he said he would support an affordable housing program that streamlines development proposals and expanded START bus service.
“A program needs to be created where the affordable housing board and elected officials review housing development [requests for proposals] from the public and/or private sectors, emphasizing deed-restricted, rent-controlled housing,” he said. “Regarding transportation, I would initially allocate funds toward an increase in START bus service, not only to the outlying communities of Victor, Driggs, Alpine and Star Valley, but also to neighborhoods like Wilson, Melody Ranch, Rafter J and the Jackson Hole Airport.”
Alongside wanting to see a “more complete public transit system,” Epstein supports expanding bus service hours to better accommodate the schedules of service workers and shift changes at major employment centers, such as St. John’s Medical Center.
Natalia Macker, 32, is an incumbent Teton County commissioner. She also is the artistic director for Off Square Theatre Company.
Macker supports a taxing structure that reflects “the principle of equal opportunity.”
“Our tax policies, as well as our budgeting, must be fair to everyone and reflect the principle of equal opportunity,” Macker said. “We need to work closely with our legislators to create more stability in our state revenues. It is not acceptable to me that we would allow funding for education and health care to be cut.”
Macker supported the April resolution, passed by the Town Council and County Commission, that put the 1 penny of general revenue to the voters.
“Both housing and transportation require investment in tangible, results-oriented projects that can be implemented immediately, as well as a focus on study and planning to ensure we are making the most strategic use of our available funds,” she said. “The 1 percent general sales tax will enable our government to be nimble and responsive.”
Should voters approve the tax, Macker said she would be focused on preserving existing housing stock, increasing the inventory of deed-restricted housing and identifying new plots of land for housing development.
“In terms of transportation, my focus is on accessibility and efficiency,” she said, noting she would support expanded commuter routes and improved transit connectivity.
Sandy Shuptrine, 71, served as a county commissioner from 1991 to 2003. She’s the owner of Pathfinder Services, a consulting business. She has held a seat on the Teton Conservation District board for the past six years.
Shuptrine said she supports maintaining the county’s 6 percent sales tax rate.
“Teton County does not have a comprehensive taxing structure, but rather a collection of voter-approved, state-allowed and local elected board-decided taxes,” Shuptrine said. “In the face of declining state revenues, I advocate for maintaining the current 6 percent sales tax rate, a best revenue resource, about 60 percent of which is paid by visitors and supports the infrastructure that they, too, need.”
Shuptrine said she supports the 1 percent general revenue sales tax, which she said would allow community leaders to “focus more on addressing community needs rather than struggling so much with how to finance them.”
“A general 6 percent sales tax collection provides more revenue certainty with declining state revenues, allows for maintenance and upgrades of existing projects and facilitates planning and implementation of actions needed for a healthy, safe community,” she said. “The Priorities Fund provides assurance to citizens regarding the focus of spending.”
Shuptrine said she’d focus the funds on additional START bus service to commuter and in-town routes, and securing property for affordable and workforce housing.
Lisa daCosta, 51, is the owner of Cache Creek Financial. She has served as business advisor for the Teton County Small Business Development Center since December 2014.
DaCosta doesn’t support the 1 percent sales tax because it cannot be earmarked for what the money has been promised to fund.
“I don’t support this tax as it truly cannot be ‘dedicated,’ as the elected [officials] have described, to housing and transportation,” she said.
DaCosta questioned how the revenue would funnel through the system, saying elected officials have too much discretion to fund “departments only tangentially or not related to housing and transportation.” She pointed to the lodging tax.
“Presently, the county receives lodging tax money intended to address the impacts of tourism, yet the 2016 budget has $350,000 going to its general administration account, and only $436,000 of the county’s $1.8 million in lodging tax receipts going to START,” she said. “The rest is divided across other departments and agencies.”
If the general revenue tax passes, however, daCosta said she would want most of the money to go toward public-private housing projects, instead of staff or administration.
“Regarding transportation, adding more and right-sized buses to build out the schedules both for in-town shuttles and commuter routes to Lincoln County and Victor [and] Driggs should be the priority,” she said. “Though operationally some funds should be allocated to the hiring of drivers and budgeted for the maintenance for this equipment.”
Trey Davis, 45, is the owner of Sweetwater Restaurant.
Davis said the combination of the lodging tax and SPET initiatives has worked well for the community, providing funds to pay for “wear and tear” from tourists and other priorities such as Fire/EMS and pathway work.
He supports the proposed 1 percent general sales tax, and the creation of the Community Priorities Fund.
“I agree transportation and housing are priorities for Teton County and that we need to have the funding to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, to support the [Integrated Transportation Plan] and to support the acquisition or construction of workforce housing,” he said. “I believe we need to create opportunities and be ready and willing to make decisions and take action.”
Davis supports allocating money collected from the tax to promote increased in-town START bus ridership.
“We cannot continue to just look to our outlying communities, but also need to provide alternative transportation for our workforce within Teton County and promote ridership,” he said. “I would also support funding for wildlife crossings that are part of the ITP and support the Regional Transportation Planning Organization.”
Davis favors allocating funds to shovel-ready rental housing projects, such as the Redmond Street Rental project proposed by the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust. He’s also a proponent of public-private partnerships “to get things built sooner versus later.”
Nikki Gill, 28, is the sales and marketing manager for the Jackson Hole Hereford Ranch.
Gill is a supporter of SPET, introduced by her grandfather, Ralph Gill, when he was in office, she said.
“SPET was intended to provide transparency and to ensure that local government had a clear plan in place on how it would spend the funds allocated for each community project,” she said. “Since its inception, SPET has had a great track record and has been a very effective way of forcing local government to fully define the scope of a project and ensure that that they are held accountable.”
She doesn’t support the 1 percent general sales tax because it doesn’t come with the same legal strings, allowing elected officials to spend the money at their discretion.
“There’s no doubt that we need to find a way to create affordable housing and find solutions to the transportation problems within Jackson,” she said. “However, I think collecting tax money without a specific plan in place for how it’s going to be spent is irresponsible.”
Should the tax be approved, Gill said she would bolster START bus routes to commuter communities, as well as expand service hours to better accommodate those “who don’t work a traditional Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 job.”
“As for housing, I think local government should stay out of the construction business and leave it to the private sector,” she said. “I would encourage the county commissioners to work with the private sector by providing incentives, and giving landowners and developers some relief from the exorbitant development fees so we can work together to build affordable and deed-restricted housing.”