In a lively afternoon workshop Monday, the Jackson Town Council voted to move forward on two hot-button revenue-generating issues: a town property tax and paid parking downtown.
The workshop kicked off with discussion about the property tax, with some councilors suggesting they levy a half-mill to a single mill property tax, all the way up to Mayor Pete Muldoon’s recommendation that the town go with the maximum legally allowed 8-mill tax.
Muldoon suggested the 8 mills of property tax after noting that Teton County residents voted down the proposed seventh-penny sales tax, which would have brought in an estimated $7 million in additional revenue for the town and by itself would have covered a projected $4.8 million budget shortfall. More than 50% of the additional penny of sales tax was anticipated to be paid by tourists and visitors to Jackson Hole.
“I see this as an 8-mill property tax, which again, to be clear folks, if you’ve got a $750,000 house, it’s going to be around $500 extra [in taxes paid] a year,” Muldoon said. “It’s real money, and in my opinion ... it would have been better to collect that money from visitors.”
However, acknowledging that the voters shot the measure down, yet town residents still rely upon core services such as street plowing, police and Fire/EMS, among many others, Muldoon added that “it should be 8 mills because we need that money to do the things that the public is demanding that we do.”
A “mill” is a property tax term equaling one one-thousandth of a dollar. So property owners would pay $1 for every $1,000 of “assessed value.”
The assessed value is set by state statute to equal 9.5% of the market value for most properties, with industrial property assessed at 11.5% of the market value. So a $1 million home would have an assessed value of $95,000, and an additional 1-mill property tax would total $95 annually above what the owner already pays.
Meanwhile, Councilors Jim Stanford and Arne Jorgensen urged the council to move forward with approving the half-mill property tax in the short term, recognizing that the council in 2021 — which will have two new faces in Jessica Sell Chambers and Jim Rooks — may very well come back during its budget discussions and increase that amount.
“I recognize that a vote we take is symbolic, because the actual resolution is due to the county clerk by the end of July, so any adjustments the incoming council would want to make would essentially supersede any vote that we make now,” Jorgensen said. “I feel very strongly that a half a mill is worth doing in the short term. ... And I want us to be strategic and thoughtful about how we do that and look for ways to mitigate those negative impacts [that property tax may have on some residents and businesses].”
Current Vice Mayor and Mayor-elect Hailey Morton Levinson and Councilor Jonathan Schechter stated that they would not support a motion made Monday to levy a property tax. Morton Levinson said the new council would be considering the matter during budget discussions and might opt for an even greater amount than a half-mill tax, while Schechter said more research needed to be done, as well as more political legwork “during these fraught times around COVID when so many things are on a razor’s edge and tensions are so high and people’s nerves are so frayed.”
Despite Morton Levinson’s and Schechter’s misgivings, Stanford moved to inform the county treasurer, county assessor and county clerk that the town of Jackson intends to levy a half-mill property tax in 2021, bringing them at least in line with the county.
Before the vote, the council took public comment, with Councilors-elect Chambers and Rooks weighing in, as well as former mayoral candidate Michael Kudar, who was beaten by Morton Levinson for the seat in November’s election.
Chambers said she supported the council moving forward with the property tax, especially in light of the failure of the seventh-penny sales tax measure. Kudar didn’t favor the tax, but asked that if approved the added revenue be earmarked for Fire/EMS, police, and health and human services. Rooks, meanwhile, questioned the timing of the vote, coming during a workshop rather than a regular council meeting and asked that the “council not vote on a tax increase at this time.”
Muldoon ultimately called the question on Stanford’s motion, and it carried 3-2, with Morton Levinson and Schechter as the two votes against.
The workshop discussion later turned to paid, or managed, parking in downtown Jackson.
Planning Director Paul Anthony kicked off the deliberation by putting in front of the council a plan recommended by a consultant the town worked with and outlining how long the paid-parking plan would take to implement. An additional three to five new full-time employees would need to be hired, Anthony said, as parking enforcement of any kind tends to be very labor-intensive.
Anthony said that “from the time the council said, ‘Yes, we want to start doing this, it’s a great idea,’” it could be as long as three to four years before the town saw any real revenue from the program, including anywhere from 18 to 24 months to get all the meters in the ground and systems ready to go live.
He also mentioned that town staff are likely looking at a summer-only paid parking program, covering four months, though Councilor Stanford suggested that perhaps the program should run May through October, with lower rates during May and October.
The councilors all agreed that moving forward with paid parking as an added revenue source is a good move, with Stanford being the most recent convert. Muldoon has long been an advocate for such a program downtown.
“I’m sort of an interesting case study on this issue here because for a long time I’ve had a fairly strong distaste for the concept of paid parking in Jackson, Wyoming ... and here I am, at the end of 2020, and unfortunately I have to admit that the time for this has come,” Stanford said. He said he would also advocate for residential parking permits outside downtown, due to “the proliferation of vehicles.”
After more discussion Muldoon moved to instruct town staff to hire a consultant for no more than $25,000 to evaluate a paid parking model for downtown to bring back “for future council consideration.”
The council heard public comment before its vote, including from Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce CEO Anna Olson, who suggested that parking downtown was not a problem and offered up alternatives to paid parking. Muldoon bristled at the suggestions, though.
“All those things cost money. We don’t have it,” he said in response to Olson’s suggested alternatives.
The motion was called and passed unanimously.