Job: Economic consultant, mountain guide, ski guide, outdoor professional
Lives in: Kelly
About the candidate:
Raised in Teton County by a mountaineering family, Mark Newcomb still deeply identifies as an outdoorsman and environmentalist. The avalanche expert used to be part owner, director and guide at Exum Mountain Guides.
After collecting his third and fourth degrees in graduate school he wanted to tackle climate change. He has served six years on these boards: Grand Teton National Park Foundation, Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs and Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation. After six years on the Teton County Planning Commission, he was elected to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners in 2014. He was the top vote-getter in that race. As a commissioner, he said, he can flex his analytical expertise and interest in land management policy.“I need to figure out how to communicate with a lot of people in rural counties that are skeptical of climate change and skeptical of government efforts to address it,” Newcomb said.
1. Affordable housing
2. Water quality
3. Commercial growth
4. Preserving agricultural
and open space
Do you support building the Tribal Trail Connector:
I’d like to assess the final cost-benefit analysis based on a preferred alternative.
Why are you running for office?
At a high level I’m running for office to promote the health and welfare of citizens of Teton County. Doing so requires balanced policy that supports opportunities for everyone to thrive, that protects natural resources vital to the community for health (water quality, for example) and welfare (wildlife, for example, that we rely on for a variety of economic and aesthetic reasons), and that protects key elements of the region’s history. I will support housing restricted to the local workforce in areas close to services and schools while supporting rural protections for agriculture, open space and wildlife outside of those areas. I will strive to support families by creating more access to early childhood education and ensuring our transportation network offers families the freedom to choose between driving, biking, walking or taking transit. I will support education broadly, including Central Wyoming College’s efforts to establish a campus. And I’ll support creative opportunities for local businesses, such as the new Hog Island home business zone.
What is your view on taxation and the county’s role in providing community services?
Taxation should match the needs of the community. The core needs for revenue include ensuring the county is adequately staffed with fairly compensated employees passionate about serving you, the citizen. Whether it’s putting out your fires, keeping you safe, maintaining your quality parks and recreation facilities, protecting your health, maintaining your variety of transportation choices or any of the other myriad of services the county provides, we need to ensure those services are provided efficiently and effectively with top-notch staff. We also need to protect the public facilities that serve you and ensure they’re delivering the services you expect, such as the new fire station downtown and the recreation facility that will serve the entire community and that you voted to expand. Ensuring local workers and county employees have housing opportunities requires substantial amounts of revenue to compete with the global demand for housing in Teton County. And ensuring freedom of choice for safe transportation alternatives requires substantial amounts of revenue. I support a mix of revenue that includes five pennies of general revenue sales tax plus one penny of specific purpose sales tax and a modicum of property tax. The county, including the library, utilizes 7.1 mills of property tax out of our 12 mill allotment to fund the services you expect. That’s 7.1 mills out of the 57 total you are assessed, or about 12% of your property tax bill. I don’t believe we should eliminate the county’s 12% portion of the property tax you pay. During my time in office we’ve lowered our mills from about 8.7 to 7.1. But eliminating it would do very little to address the massive increases in property taxes over the past five years (anywhere from 50% to 150% or more depending on where you live). The issue is how the state assesses the value of your property, and that’s something that only the state legislature can change. The legislature could limit the increase in taxes to a reasonable amount per year, allowing them to reset only once the property is sold, or choose to exempt some portion of a property’s value based on how long someone has lived there. Those measures are out of the county’s control, but I would support efforts to implement them at the state level.
What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?
Growth in general seems to be threatening our goals to protect wildlife, agriculture and open space. We’re experiencing unprecedented levels of commercial development, residential growth and tourism, resulting in traffic levels we’ve never seen before and increased threats to wildlife. Commercial growth includes new lodging and short-term rental units. Residential growth includes large new houses in both the town of Jackson and rural subdivisions. Increases in tourism, commercial development and high-end residential development are driving job growth at a rate far outpacing our production of workforce housing. Simultaneously, many residences that used to house local workers have sold and are now occupied only part of the year or by folks working remotely in high-paid jobs outside the county. We need policies to protect opportunities for wildlife (such as wildlife crossings and open space), prevent any more rural subdivisions and to ensure that new housing is properly located in town or northern South Park, truly houses local workers and doesn’t worsen growth issues.
What’s the first thing you would do to help improve water quality?
Provide county funding to help Hoback residents establish a water and sewer improvement service district. That’s on the cusp of happening now, and we should follow through on that effort. Next I would make sure funding is available to fund projects and services identified through the water quality assessment and planning effort currently underway. Voting yes on the specific purpose excise tax (SPET) water quality item that will be before you this November is an important step to complete the latter priority.
Is the Travel and Tourism Board part of the tourism solution or the problem? Why?
The Travel and Tourism Board can be either. Tourism is and always will remain vital to the health and welfare of Teton County. That said, we cannot expect to keep growing tourism. The Travel and Tourism Board is part of the solution if its efforts help stabilize tourism, boosting it when it drops off for macroeconomic reasons but deemphasizing sheer promotion when tourism is maxing out our capacity and threatening our resources as it has been the last couple years. Around the world there are clear differences in the quality of a destination based on how they’ve managed tourism. Destinations that do it poorly are not ones visitors recommend, return to or, importantly, pay relatively more to visit. Teton County is a high-quality destination because it offers a unique mix of wild and scenic grandeur with a wide array of recreational opportunities and with something many other communities lack — an intact ecosystem teeming with wildlife living in their natural state. Outdoor gear companies hire ambassadors to directly pitch their products, which would be like the TTB directly pitching Teton County. Gear companies also fund expeditions that show those ambassadors wearing the product while pursuing their art at the highest level. The TTB could do less of the former and more of the latter by helping fund local organizations that work hard to preserve our intact ecosystem and the flow of natural services it provides and that our visitors come to witness. Preserving our wild and scenic character means we must not let it get overrun by ever increasing hordes of visitors. Visitors will pay more for the quality of experience they can only find here. That makes it possible for employers to pay employees more, increasing living standards across the board. If the TTB is rowing with me on this issue by then they can be part of the solution.
What can the county do to support the Latino community, about 20% of the population?
All Teton County residents should be supported with opportunities to thrive, including opportunities to occupy housing deed restricted for local workers, opportunities to partake in all health and welfare services, opportunities to utilize all public facilities and opportunities for education. Residents from outside the U.S. who have not yet become fluent in English may need support to ensure they have equal access to the same services and facilities available to all county residents. The county can help provide those opportunities by adequately funding key non-governmental organizations such as Voices JH, One22 and Immigration Hope that facilitate access to these facilities and services. Also, housing and the opportunity to own a home is one of the most important ways a hard-working family, especially an immigrant family, can start to build wealth. Ensuring workforce housing opportunities are available to immigrants supports Latinos and other immigrants. The county should also be an equal opportunity employer that hires without regard to race or sex. We also need bilingual employees in key, public-facing positions, including public health and safety positions.
What sets you apart:
Just about everything. No other candidate can match my experience in county government that includes six years as a planning commissioner and almost eight as a county commissioner, giving me critical insight into land use planning and budgeting, which are the two most powerful tools for protecting the health and welfare of the community. Living here my entire life frames what I value about the community — our independent character and our wild and natural resources — and why we must work to protect those values. Importantly, I look for and expect the best in everyone, and I honor every individual, including my opponents in this campaign. Most importantly of all is my passion for service and my desire to serve you, the citizen.