SPET ballot items

To bundle or not to bundle. That’s what elected officials debated Tuesday when hashing out what to put on the November 2019 specific purpose excise tax ballot.

In past SPET elections, voters have been presented with a list of projects to cast a “yea” or “nay” vote on each individually. But this year some officials want to “bundle” a $77 million slate of 10 projects into a single, all-or-nothing ballot question.

Mayor Pete Muldoon, who favors bundling, said town and county officials and staff have the “best, holistic” view of the projects and how they fit into big-picture capital needs. He’s confident the community will “ratify” officials’ vetting of all the projects, he said.

“The purpose of a SPET election is for us to fund the needs of our community, not to provide entertainment to the voters,” Muldoon said. “The voters have made a decision to elect us to make these decisions. I think we’re the most qualified to do this.”

The other town councilors — Jim Stanford, Arne Jorgensen and Hailey Morton Levinson — also favored a “bundled” approach. Councilor Jonathan Schechter was absent.

“We cannot just pick the sexy items,” Stanford said. “We have, to use the food analogy, to eat our vegetables, too.”

Levinson concurred.

“I think the voters are smart,” she said, “I think they’ll understand why we want to bundle it all. All these items together move our community forward. They’re needs not wants.”

On the other hand, several county commissioners were leery of bundling. Commissioner Mark Newcomb said he respects the ability of individuals in the community to identify what they feel is at the “core of government function and in their mind what is less core.”

“I think we really have to trust the community, and I think the community would be extremely disappointed if they didn’t sense that trust from us as elected officials,” Newcomb said. “It’s about the sacredness of the ballot box and the trust in the voter and trust in our democratic process.”

Commissioner Mark Barron said voters are smart and have historically approved taxes for projects that may not be “sexy,” like for wastewater or the jail. He said he has faith citizens can support all the ballot initiatives.

“I’m not sure if you understand the chance of losing all these items by bundling them all in one ballot,” Barron said. “That’s my concern.”

Going the “a la carte” route, for Commissioner Greg Epstein, would demand changing the items on the ballot. Because the community desperately needs certain items that may not enjoy wide popularity — like Gregory Lane sidewalks and the vehicle maintenance facility — he’d consider striking the “shiny objects” like the Recreation Center and wildlife crossings off an a la carte ballot, he said.

“I’m highly concerned about core needs,” Epstein said.

Commissioner Natalia Macker said her “gut reaction” was to favor the a la carte option, while Commissioner Luther Propst said he’s still analyzing the issue.

”To me, the power of bundling is the statement we would make to the community that this is an integrated package,” Propst said.

Ultimately, with the town firmly planted in the “bundling” camp and commissioners wary, the bundling question was left to a future meeting. Staff will work to draft ballot language for a July 1 joint meeting.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063 or county@jhnewsandguide.com.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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(4) comments

TERRENCE MILAN

The reason that they bundle is because they can project how much of a tax hit the payers will get. With all the special interests that Jackson has, they have no way of knowing what the net tax affect is if some should pass while others may fail. This makes the calculations easier. Jackson has to many special interests.

Jim Little Jr.

I think an all-or-nothing SPET is a very bad idea. If voters don’t like one of the SPET options, their only option is to vote against them all. Which is a highly likely scenario. Just look at what happened last time with the START bus proposal.

sean henry

ya its all too complicated for me to understand..please bundle it, so we can watch it all fail.

Tim Rieser

The arrogance of town counsel is spectacular. They know better than you, they exclaim. The motto of the SPET tax is “Your Tax, Your Projects, Your Votes”. But I guess Muldoon and co. didn’t recall the philosophy behind SPET. They are simply lazy and don’t want to do their jobs of selecting. The nauseating arrogance of the Mayor to opine how qualified he (and they) are when his skill set seems to be spinning records at summer weddings. How could the elected officials be more qualified to determine what the voters want than the voters themselves? That’s willfully ignorant and patently absurd.

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