Teton County voters have a long history of embracing Specific Purpose Excise Tax — SPET — initiatives to pay for projects ranging from the library expansion to housing to the new Sage Living center for seniors.
At a special joint information meeting today at 1:30 p.m., Jackson town councilors and Teton County commissioners will weigh whether to kick-start a new round of SPET initiatives that could be placed on the 2022 ballot. The public can attend via Zoom; find the link on the meeting’s agenda, which is attached to the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.
Wyoming statute only allows revenue-generating elections — which include SPET elections — in May, August and November. Additionally, state law requires such ballot resolutions to be submitted to the county clerk’s office at least 110 days prior to the election date. So, for example, if the bodies wanted to put a SPET initiative on the ballot for a May 3 special election, that ballot resolution would have to be in the county clerk’s hands by Wednesday, according to a staff report.
Likewise, the deadline for getting SPET initiatives to the clerk’s office in time to get on the 2022 general election ballot would be July 20.
Currently the county collects roughly $19 million per year earmarked for SPET projects, and at that rate the county treasurer estimates that all voter-approved projects will be paid for by September 2024, according to a staff report from Teton County Administrator Alyssa Watkins and Jackson Town Manager Larry Pardee.
If no more projects are in the pipeline to be funded, the county stops collecting that extra penny of tax. The SPET discussion arises as the Town Council, Pardee and other town staff are in the midst of “Future Funding of Local Government” discussions and deliberations focused on identifying and creating reliable, continual funding streams to support town services to which residents have become accustomed.
“Staff recommends that it may be desirable and beneficial to allow time for these larger funding discussions to play out prior to deciding on future SPET direction,” the staff report states.
Since SPET can only fund specific projects, the town has to look elsewhere to pay for in-demand services. A prime example is snow-plowing, which has been front and center recently as heavy snowfall has shined a light on the fact that the town is short-staffed in its streets snowplow division — the town has only been able to hire eight of 11 positions, reflecting staffing shortages across the country — and has asked residents to be patient as its overworked staff plows streets, alleys and public parking lots.
Community Engagement Specialist Susan Scarlata noted that Public Works Department employees from Assistant Director Johnny Ziem to meter readers have been helping to fill the gap, all while continuing to work their normal roles with the town.
The Town Council will also convene at 6 p.m. today for their meeting that was moved back from last Monday. Items the mayor and councilors will consider include mid-year salary adjustments for all town employees and for employees of joint town-county departments, as well as potentially reducing the speed limit on a residential section of Rodeo Drive.
The recommended salary bumps of 2.5% across the board would be in line with recently approved adjustments for county employees, noted Town Manager Pardee, and more competitive wages would aid in the recruitment and retention of town employees, many of whom are overworked as departments are short-staffed, Pardee’s report states.
The Rodeo Drive speed limit discussion comes after resident Bill Ramsay in November and December encouraged the town to lower the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph through a residential area where Ramsay said people regularly drive too fast.