With an increase of 3% over last year’s budget, elected officials are paying their staff more and reconfiguring a few high-level positions.

The Town Council voted Monday to adopt a general fund of $23.2 million, bolstered from $22.6 million in fiscal year 2019 by increases of 3.5% in sales tax. That tax accounts for nearly three quarters of the town’s revenue.

Roughly $150,000 of that will go toward one new position and redefining other positions to manage broad community planning and outreach. The councilors have been eyeing those staffing changes since Mayor Pete Muldoon first floated the idea in a retreat earlier this year, arguing that a long-term vision for the community should be among their highest priorities.

“I think the pieces are in place to achieve sort of a strategic, big-picture way of engaging the community,” Town Manager Larry Pardee said Monday.

The new position will be a public engagement officer, whose job description includes educating citizens about the goings-on at Town Hall and organizing stakeholder meetings for major community endeavors, like the current campaign to determine what constitutes “Western character” (see page 9).

The other changes will redefine job descriptions for the town’s two most senior planners. Town Planning Director Tyler Sinclair will become a strategic development director, and Principal Planner Paul Anthony will become planning and building director.

Those new roles will allow them, particularly Sinclair, to focus more on strategic planning to more effectively steer the town toward goals outlined in the Comprehensive Plan like ample workforce housing and efficient transportation.

In addition, existing staff will receive a 3% raise.

“You have some really big aggressive goals at a high level, and you’ve also reinvested in the core services,” Pardee said. “At the end of the day, we’re in a strong position.”

With little help on the horizon from the Wyoming Legislature, the council will also boost financial assistance for social services by 17% next year. As state funds have dwindled in recent years, organizations like the Teton Literacy Center and One22 have come to rely heavily on local government. Next year they’ll get an additional $120,000 from the town.

As for housing, the council will leave funding in limbo for now. The Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department requested $1 million to create affordable units for the general public. But with many town staff — and first responders in particular — struggling to live in town, officials considered moving the money to the employee housing fund instead.

Their solution is a compromise: Leave the $1 million in an entirely different fund and allocate it later on, depending on where the most promising housing opportunities arise.

The budget cycle began with an ambitious push by Pardee to move the town toward “priority-driven budgeting,” a fundamentally different way of distributing government funding that he hopes will help elected officials align their spending with their values.

However, that method involves a complex process of scoring and ranking the town’s services based on how well they achieve community goals. That proved too much for the first year, and Pardee settled for simply presenting the budget in a new way — with the focus on programs rather than departments.

For the first time, for example, it shows the cost of snow removal, rather than just a long list of line items for the tasks and equipment that go into plowing the town’s streets.

Pardee wants to start the budget process sooner next time around, allowing months for elected officials and community members to score the programs and thereby determine the appropriate funding level for each.

“We’ve done the hard work,” he said. “Now we’re going to fine-tune it and implement it fully this year.”

Contact Cody Cottier at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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