Debate persists over how much to charge Teton Village businesses for START bus service, but elected officials did agree on one thing: They want it to be tied to the cost of providing that service.
For years the funding that Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the Teton Village Association have contributed to START — an obligation under the Teton Village master plan — has trailed what START actually pays for the service, which has grown to nearly 100 runs per day during ski season.
Now the START board is attempting to bring those figures into alignment, and the decision on Monday was a glimmer of resolution in what has grown into a monthslong discussion with little progress.
However, the Jackson Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners left open the question of how much to subsidize the cost, considering it is also in the town and county’s best interest to encourage as many people as possible to ride the bus.
Some, including Mayor Pete Muldoon and Councilor Jim Stanford, were skeptical that they should assist at all.
“We should be charging at a minimum what it costs to operate,” Muldoon said. “I don’t think we need to be bending over backwards to ensure we help out a private entity with a required service that they have to provide.”
The master plan mandates that the resort and the Teton Village Association provide bus passes to its employees, a requirement the entities traded for immense development rights nearly two decades ago.
“We’re talking about subsidizing the biggest corporation in the valley, coming off year after year of record skier visits,” Stanford said. “It’s mind-boggling.”
Others, namely Teton County Commissioners Greg Epstein and Mark Barron, have generally sided with the Village on the subject. On Monday, Barron argued that as tax-paying members of the community the businesses there shouldn’t be strapped with more onerous expenses.
“We could pretend that Teton Village and those entities and those people out there aren’t a part of ‘we the people,’ but they are,” he said. “They are a part of us; we are a part of them.”
The START board initially recommended a new calculation in June that would more than double what the Village paid last year, from $310,000 to $637,000. That figure was based on the cost of the service and on what portion of that service Village employees and ski pass holders — who receive free bus passes through the resort — account for.
For the time being, however, the board has agreed to take skier bus passes out of the equation, deeming them a separate conversation from employee bus passes, which the master plan requires.
That dropped the Village’s contribution for 2020 to about $430,000. But that’s only for one year, and the rest may be tacked on in 2021, depending on what the town and county decide.
Some, including Councilor Arne Jorgensen, argued that transition is crucial for the businesses as they adjust to the new expense. He said a longer timeline might be more appropriate.
“If we’re going to be making significant adjustments to how we are treating our partners,” he said, “I think it is really important that we provide a significant transition period.”
The commissioners approved a separate proposal from the resort and the Teton Valley Association — based on a different formula — that will require them to pay about $414,000 next year (4-1, with Teton County Commission Chairwoman Natalia Macker dissenting).
It’s unclear how that will mesh with whatever the town decides, as the councilors seem unlikely to follow suit. The elected officials will revisit the issue at a future meeting.