At every level of government that has broached the subject, officials have come to drastically different conclusions about how much Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the Teton Village Association should chip in to support bus service to the village.
As the groups responsible for nearly half of annual START ridership, the resort and the association help cover the cost of transporting those passengers. But for the past decade the method of calculating their contribution has led some to argue they aren’t paying their fair share, though the resort and association dispute that.
Now, transportation officials and representatives from the village have each pitched new formulas to determine how to divide the cost. The Town Council and Teton County Board of County Commissioners listened to both approaches at a joint meeting Monday.
“The bottom line,” START board Chairwoman Susan Mick told them, “is there’s $895,000 that needs to be split up somehow equitably between local government, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and TVA.”
That figure is what remains in operating costs for bus service to Teton Village after subtracting revenue from fares, fees and federal financial assistance. The START board is recommending that elected officials require the resort and TVA to pay 75% of the leftover expense, or about $670,000.
They based that suggestion on the fact that about 80% of people who ride the bus to Teton Village are either Village employees — who receive free passes through the resort and the TVA in accordance with requirements detailed in the village master plan — or season passholders, who also get complimentary passes from the resort.
But the resort and the association argue that $670,000 — more than double what they paid last year — is too steep. TVA Executive Director Melissa Turley called it “an overpayment on the rack rate for START bus passes on the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
TVA has proposed reverting to the old formula, in use until 2009. Under that approach the resort and the Village association would pay a discounted rate of $50 for a bus pass and $2.40 for individual trips. That would add up to about $415,000, or 46% percent of the cost for service to the village. It’s still an increase of more than $100,000 over last year, though a quarter million less than the START board’s request.
The different solutions have divided officials on the START board and their governing bodies. The recommendation barely even made it to the council and commission, passing by a narrow vote of 4-3. Some on the board argued the decision was rushed.
For most of the electeds Monday’s meeting was mostly an introduction to the complex issue, and not all made their positions clear. But Councilor Jim Stanford has long been adamant in calling for an increase in the Village’s contribution, while Commissioner Greg Epstein believes that is unfair targeting.
Epstein, the county’s liaison to the START board, asked why they are “pointing fingers at the Village” rather than “having a holistic conversation about moving people around Teton County.”
But Mick said that is just the beginning. Financially, she said, START is “floundering,” and the board will ask other groups to pony up in the future. For example, the town shuttle accounts for about 40 percent of START service, suggesting that perhaps hotels and other Jackson businesses should contribute as well.
“Costs have gone up, and we need to be looking at allocating costs of service to people that we’re providing a service to,” Mick said. “And we are going to be looking at that across the board. This is where we started; it has to start somewhere.”
Turley stressed that the issue “deserves a communitywide lens, not a micro focus on Teton Village.”
The condition in the Teton Village master plan that requires the resort and Teton Village Association to provide bus passes for their employees has a catch: If they can show that START is charging an “unreasonably high fee” the passes “may be only partially subsidized.”
Resort officials have also said they would be open to ending the program of providing free bus passes with season ski passes if the town and county wanted to consider such an option. But whatever happens, all are keen to maintain a good relationship between the Teton Village entities and local government.
Town Manager Larry Pardee referred to it as an “incredible collaboration,” noting that over the past five years START has moved 1.7 million passengers between the town and village. Mick called the resort “one of our best and earliest partners,” and Turley stressed that “we’re all on the same team. We’re here trying to reduce traffic.”