Jackson Councilor Jim Stanford has suggested yanking $850,000 in public funding from the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce after the group’s recent testimony about housing regulations before state lawmakers.
“Inaccurate and misleading information was given to the legislative committee, and I sat there wondering, why have we helped finance this on behalf of some members of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce?” Stanford said Monday.
Ultimately, the suggestion didn’t win the favor of the remaining members of the Jackson Town Council, who instead preferred to draft a letter to legislators urging them to respect local control when it comes to housing regulations.
On Sept. 16 and 17 the Legislature’s Joint Interim Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee met at Teton County Library. Jackson was selected for the meeting following heated debates about local control during the last session, including a failed bill introduced by Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, that would have gutted Jackson’s affordable housing program.
The bill sought to prohibit towns and counties from requiring developers to build or pay for mitigation housing as part of a new project. Following a public engagement process, the town and county approved new (and controversial) housing exaction rules in July 2018, upping the requirements for how much developers — especially commercial developers — must pay toward housing when building a new project.
The housing bill, titled House Bill 277, didn’t make it onto the state committee’s agenda. But as the lawmakers wrapped up their Jackson meeting, Duncan asked the committee to revive the bill. Members voted to bring the bill back for consideration at a November meeting in Cheyenne, with a single “no” vote from Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Fremont.
Duncan cited “testimony” from a lunch with advocacy group Jackson Hole Working as a reason for bringing back the bill. Jackson Hole Working told the News&Guide the group hasn’t taken a formal position on any bill at this time, but did say “we support many aspects of HB277 and believe strongly in incentive-based tools that this bill actively encourages.”
The sudden reintroduction of the bill, without an opportunity for substantial vetting or public discussion while the committee convened in Teton County, upset many local elected officials.
Stanford also took issue with public testimony Chamber of Commerce President Anna Olson provided to the committee. Olson told lawmakers that Jackson hasn’t seen any new business licenses since the regulations were approved (though Olson later said she meant to say commercial development permits), and said the current housing exaction rates are too high and penalize the business community.
“You cannot be funded by the public and turn around and undercut a public process because some of your members didn’t like the outcome,” Stanford said. “It does raise questions for me about the propriety of this public subsidy to begin with.”
Olson said the chamber has for years advocated for the 900 businesses that make up its membership.
“There’s nothing new here,” she said.
And, Olson said, the chamber has been consistent and open about standing against the raised housing exaction rates enacted last year.
According to the chamber’s annual report, it received $850,430 from the taxpayer-funded Travel and Tourism board. Of that funding, 54% goes to visitor services like staffing visitor centers, 35% goes to tourism and trade shows and 11% goes to events like Old West Days. The chamber submits vouchers for those services regularly to the Travel and Tourism board.
Following the September committee meeting, Teton County commissioners asked staff to look into ways to spend $30,000 that the county allocated for legislative lobbying. The town has an additional $25,000 in its budget for that purpose.
And now the town has voted to come up with a draft letter to forward to the Board of County Commissioners for review.
“I would be supportive of that, and getting that signed, and look toward getting as many people, including the chamber to sign on to that,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said. “I think it’s intensely important that we do a much better job of engaging with the legislature and other people around the state on why these items are so important to us.”
The draft letter is under review by the chamber board, Olson said.
Muldoon said everyone should be able to agree on advocating for local control, regardless of how individuals or groups feel about the existing housing policies.
“I think the one thing that was pretty clearly important was that what we can all agree on or we at least all say we agree on is we should be deciding these issues locally, and the tool, regardless of how it’s implemented, is something we want to retain,” Muldoon said.
The corporations committee meets Nov. 18 and 19 in Cheyenne and is planning to review Duncan’s bill to limit local control over requiring developers to offset construction with housing for employees generated by their projects. The town and county have both cancelled their scheduled meetings during those days to be able to participate.