SPET Election 5/2/17

As usual, I will be making my final decisions in the voting booth on election day, but here is my current thinking on SPET:

I’m tempted to vote “AGAINST” all the proposals. Partly as a protest vote, but also because I’m earnestly willing to experiment with limiting local government to 5% of our economy.

The protest is in response to the relentless and deceptive attempts to raise taxes to 7%. The general excise tax increase that failed in November was a push to commandeer the 6th cent of sales tax for transportation and housing, claiming it wasn’t a tax increase, but merely a reshuffling of tax dollars. Government officials knew full well that they would immediately be coming back to the community with important and tempting SPET propositions (Living Center, CWC, Fire Stations, Rec Center repairs), bolstered by a big special interest PR push, that would require us to raise taxes to 7%.

Now, the scheme is to encourage the voters to spend all the 6th revenue out 6 years by placing $70 million worth of projects on the ballot. That way any additional important and unexpected capital needs that come up during that 6 year time span will require a 7th cent of sales tax. Simultaneously they are pursuing additional taxing power from the legislature that they will use as an additional tool to push us above 6%. It’s up to the voters to keep the government in check.

I’ve been encouraging folks to either vote “AGAINST” all the proposals, or at the least to only vote for $24 million or less, so that we only tie up the money for 2 years at a time. Within that context here are my thoughts regarding the individual SPET proposals:

#1 Replacement of Current START
Buses and Purchase of Additional
START Buses – $6,500,000.00

It’s not unreasonable to replace aging buses. I’m concerned that the START system is an anachronistic approach to mass transit. Too many empty seats are necessary to provide convenience for riders. I would like to see START raise fares to cover expenses, and since commercial interests (especially at Teton Village) receive most of the benefit from START servicing their customers and employees, those commercial interests should be paying the lion’s share of the costs. Also, privatization of the bus system has been pursued in other countries, and should be considered here.

#2 Town of Jackson/Teton County
Housing at Parks and Recreation
Maintenance Facility – $2,900,000.00

Public money for housing public employees on land the public already owns. I like that. I can also live with the price per unit. Tempting.

#3 Central Wyoming College (CWC) –
Jackson Center – $3,820,000.00

This isn’t a core purpose of local government, and to the extent that it is a vocational program that serves local commercial interests, using tax dollars to subsidize private business is inappropriate. On the other hand, it would be nice to have a more established community college for locals. The fact that the teachers are locals and the students are locals means that it’s not necessarily a growth generator. In fact, by taking two commercial lots out of circulation it may reduce growth. Tempting.

#4 Town of Jackson Pedestrian
Improvements – $1,500,000.00

Sidewalks are nice, but Town keeps trying to impose them on neighborhoods that don’t want them, and they are useless in the winter unless the Town plows them. Demanding that residents shovel the sidewalk in front of their houses is incredibly unfair and unrealistic given the huge snow loads delivered by street plowing.

#5 Teton County/Town of Jackson
Recreation Center Capital Repair,
Replacement, and Renovation – $2,400,000.00

It’s reasonable to maintain our community assets.

#6 Town of Jackson/Teton County
Housing at START Bus Facility – $8,300,000.00

Public money for housing public employees on land the public already owns. Once again, I like that. But the price per unit seems really high. This also seems like it would be a perfect location for even more dense housing with less parking (It is a transportation hub after all), so maybe the plan needs more work.

#7 Redmond/Hall Affordable
Housing/Rentals Project – $4,050,000.00

Local government has already agreed to pay for this, so the SPET ask is actually to refill government coffers to provide money for an unknown new project yet to be decided on. That’s not how this should work. The Redmond/Hall project is not close enough to the walkable commercial core, the cost per unit is very high, and it’s not restricted to public employees, so using public money is not appropriate.

#8 Fleet Maintenance Facility and
START Bus Storage – $15,330,000.00

This is a big ask, and if it’s so important why did the START bus barn get built first. In the interest of being prudent with government funds the existing START bus barn could be converted to a maintenance facility and the buses could return to being parked outside. I also believe that this piece of property has the capacity for more housing that the current plan doesn’t effectively exploit.

#9 Fire Station #1 (Jackson) and Fire
Station #3 (Hoback) Improvements – $6,800,000.00

A core responsibility of government. Is it really necessary? Is the price a good deal? Why is there no housing included?

#10 St. John’s Living Center – $17,000,000.00
An important community asset. Is this a good price? Why no housing included? If staying in the Living Center costs $80,000 per year is this really a broadly targeted public amenity, or will it mostly be used by the more well-off members of our community?

That’s my 2 cents on the extra penny, actually $12 million dollars per year that will come out of our pockets and the pockets of our visitors. Make sure to only vote “FOR” the projects that you think are appropriate, essential, urgent and cost effective. Vote “AGAINST” the rest!

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