The Jackson Town Council will continue to hammer out budget issues, both for town-only and joint town-county budgets, in two separate afternoon meetings today.
At 1 p.m. the council will hold a special budget workshop meeting, followed by a Joint Information Meeting with Teton County commissioners at 3 p.m.
The Monday discussions follow hourslong meetings over the last few weeks in which councilors and town staff have dug into the proposed budget, making tweaks and additions where they see fit.
Last Monday, the council — along with Town Manager Larry Pardee, Finance Director Kelly Thompson and a host of department heads — addressed multiple key budget issues. Included among them were sales tax revenue projections for Fiscal Year 2022, and the possibility of filling more than a dozen currently frozen and newly requested staff positions. Relatively rosy projections on the former gave councilors a bit of leeway on consideration of the latter.
Pardee presented the council with a positive financial picture as the town finishes FY21 on June 30 and moves into FY22. Upon questioning from Councilor Jim Rooks, Pardee noted that town staffers project the town’s general fund reserves to be more than $17 million at the end of FY21, which he said would be at or near an all-time high. The town manager then showed councilors various incremental revenue scenarios based on potential sales tax collection increases of 3% up to 9% over the current fiscal year.
“We not only have strong fund reserves and projections of promising revenues, you’re sitting on 10-12 percentage points of funding [above expectations]. Should council choose to want to use those funds, they could [do so],” Pardee said.
After a good amount of discussion about where to pinpoint sales tax revenue — including a suggestion by Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen to place a half a mill of property tax within the revenue discussion and dedicate it to the town’s Fire/EMS commitment — three of the five councilors landed on the 6% projected increase, while the other two, Jorgensen and Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson, were leaning toward a slightly more conservative 5% projection.
The council then deliberated reinstating several town staff positions that were frozen last year due to conservative revenue projections amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as several new positions, some of which were included in the recommended budget and others that were not previously included in staff’s proposed budget.
A good bit of discussion was focused on the town’s IT staff, headed by Michael Palazzolo — a behind-the-scenes, yet ubiquitous staff member known simply as “Zolo” — and the stress his department is under, as IT touches virtually every aspect of the town’s operations. Multiple new IT positions were considered to be added to Zolo’s currently three-person department, which he acknowledged was lacking in numbers compared to other resort towns of similar or even smaller populations.
Zolo explained that his department has its six hands full with day-to-day tasks to keep systems running smoothly — potentially at the risk of not being as proactive as necessary on system security matters — and estimated that he spends as much as 60% of his time on administrative and clerical duties because of a lack of staffing.
The council expressed their support for adding the three requested IT positions, one of which will essentially be dedicated entirely to the police department.
In voicing her support for adding the positions to the budget, Councilor Jessica Sell Chambers said, “I am struck by the fact that we have a department director spending 60% of his time on clerical duties.”
When all was said and done, councilors gave preliminary approval for 15 frozen or new staff positions in the budget — final budget approval will come on June 21 — and Jorgensen noted that the moves are important to avoid “burnout by town staff” as they’re being asked “to do more with less.”
“We’re in a position where we can afford to do these investments, and I’m very pleased that we’re able to do that,” Jorgensen said. “But I will continue to remind people that these are reoccurring expenses that we’re approving [and] it will be incumbent upon us to be having hard, clear discussions with ourselves and with the community that the revenue picture needs to come into alignment with these decisions. ... I’m sorry if I will be a broken record on that, but I’m going to continue to.”