An effort to “bundle” specific purpose excise tax projects has failed.
Voters will once again check “for” or “against” for each of 10 projects appearing on a November 2019 specific purpose excise tax ballot, despite the Jackson Town Council’s attempt to combine the items into a single, all-or-nothing question for the first time.
“I don’t want to prolong this any further,” Councilor Jim Stanford said.
At a meeting Monday, town and county elected officials approved ballot language for up to $77 million in spending for the 1% optional sales tax over the next four-ish years.
Elected officials agreed to the ballot language Monday, just two days before the legal deadline.
For weeks, they had been split along town and county lines. Almost all Jackson town councilors were hoping to, for the first time, bundle projects into one or several questions.
“The voters have made a decision to elect us to make these decisions. I think we’re the most qualified to do this,” Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon said.
But county commissioners preferred the traditional “a la carte” ballot structure voters are used to.
“In terms of building voter confidence and voter trust, I support a la carte completely,” Propst said. “I cannot support anything that shifts the way we ask the voters questions at this point.”
Without agreement, a SPET election couldn’t be held.
When county commissioners refused to “bundle,” voting unanimously for an “a la carte” ballot, three town councilors were swayed to the other side, opting to support the traditional “a la carte” ballot even though it wasn’t their preference.
Councilors Stanford, Hailey Morton Levinson and Jonathan Schechter voted in favor of the ballot, while Councilor Arne Jorgensen and Muldoon voted against.
Muldoon said he supports all the projects as a package, but not as individual items.
“I’m a little disappointed by the lack of compromise by the county,” Muldoon said, “but the reality is, the board of county commissioners has the statutory authority to propose a SPET measure.”
Despite its divisiveness, officials said they were grateful for the thoughtful discussion about SPET structure and committed to taking a closer look at town and county revenue sources moving forward.
Propst said the 10 elected officials can individually help educate the community about the projects. And even though projects won’t be bundled, several officials urged advocacy groups in the community to advocate for all 10 projects rather than just their specific interests.
“It can’t just be the 10 of us alone,” Schechter said. “I would ask that people in the community, you don’t just advocate for one particular item, but you advocate for all these.”
“I also am still waiting for the 100 emails supporting the ‘yes on all’ campaign,” Jorgensen said.
The biggest ticket item to make it onto the SPET ballot is $22 million for the expansion and renovation of the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center, including an additional gym, indoor walking track, indoor climbing gym and an outdoor splash pad.
The second priciest item up for a vote is $18.5 million for design and construction of a vehicle maintenance facility, to service the public fleet such as snowplows, law enforcement vehicles and buses. A similar proposal was rejected by voters in 2017.
Wildlife crossings, the project that dominated public comments surrounding the election, could be funded by $10 million in SPET cash.
Ryan Nourai, an organizer with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance who worked to galvanize support for getting crossings on the ballot, said he has enjoyed watching people get involved in finding a solution to wildlife-vehicle collisions.
With $10 million, he said, “we will be able to have structures finished. And for most people, the proof is in the pudding, so we’ll be able to see the actual reductions in collisions. We’ll be able to see less dead animals on the side of the road.”
He said the Alliance is already gearing up to start canvassing in support of the ballot measure.
“We’re all very happy with that double digit number,” he said.