Comments on Teton County – Town of Jackson Housing Supply Plan 2017-2021

It is inappropriate to use public money to subsidize the housing for private sector employees. Housing subsidies are appropriate for people who are disabled, and if necessary for public employees: first responders, nurses, teachers, etc. To the extent that the affordable housing supply program is subsidized with taxpayer funds it’s really an “affordable employee program” that benefits the employer class, and the wealthy class who have an interest in cheap labor. Housing subsidies for private sector workers are really wage subsidies for their employers. It’s wrong for private entities to ask the taxpayers to subsidies their employees.

All 2,400 units that are allocated to increase the density of Town should be deed restricted for local workforce occupancy. Every single one. Letting any of these units enter the market without deed restrictions will only add to our traffic and workforce housing problems. Every additional unit added through this program should also be be restricted in square footage, so they are modest in size. There should be no price or rent caps, so that employers aren’t let off the hook for paying for the true cost of their employees. Otherwise, we will be inadvertently subsidizing the commercial expansion and job creation that is leading to our overpopulation problem, and that perpetuates our clogged roads and workforce housing deficit.

Regarding traffic, All these reallocated units should be located in the urban commercial core that stretches from Smiths to Dairy Queen. This is where density belongs. This is where people can live lives that don’t revolve around car ownership. The farther you get from the commercial urban core the more necessary it is to have a car. There should be no parking minimum requirement on these deed restricted units, in fact parking maximums should be considered.

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!

Don’t Fall For It

I’m very concerned that our local government is not being straightforward with us regarding it’s plan to kill SPET and replace it with a general sales tax. Here’s why:

1) Officials claim that this general sales tax increase will provide a dedicated source of funding for housing and transportation. That’s not true. No matter what this group of elected officials resolves today those intentions are not binding on either them or on future electeds. This tax hasn’t even been implemented yet and there was already an attempt to add Budge Drive Slide remediation to the list of spending priorities, along with projects dealing with community safety, and conservation. Nothing will prevent a further expansion of allowable uses. This is not a dedicated source of funding it’s a blank check to grow government with none of the accountability that is built into the SPET tax that they are displacing.

2) Officials claim that the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that this tax will generate will be used to solve our workforce housing and traffic problems, but this claim is not supported by their own planning documents.

Regarding workforce housing: The plans they have put in place are vague and even in their best case scenarios the huge expenditures they are planning for government subsidized private sector workforce housing will not reduce our workforce housing deficit. It will only modestly reduce the rate of growth of that deficit. The ridiculously high subsidies required by the low density housing they are planning is right up there with the Pentagon’s $600 toilet seats. No individual or employer in his right mind would pay $300,000 subsidies per housing unit. Only a government that’s using other people’s money would do that.

Regarding traffic: The enormous sums of money they plan to spend on transit will not reduce overall traffic volume. In their own extremely optimistic traffic planning projections START will at best in 20 years only handle a tiny fraction of all vehicle trips.

The Town and County are not proposing actual solutions to our housing and traffic problems. They are simply giving very expensive lip service to these issues in the name of “something must be done”.

The town and county have a track record of failure on these issues, including a disappointing history of waste and mismanagement. Now they are doubling down on these past failures with no coherent solutions on the table. If this resolution passes, at the end of ten years they will have taxed and spent over 100 million dollars, and what will we have to show for it? A widening housing gap, and a bus system that handles less than 2% of our trips.

Real solutions do exist to our workforce housing and traffic problems. We need to implement meaningful density bonuses in appropriate areas in exchange for deed restricted housing, We need to strictly focus private and public development into existing nodes, we need to modestly expand START when demand requires it, and we need to expand the carrying capacity and connectivity of our roadway system. These are actual effective solutions, but they require political will and leadership from our elected officials. Instead of providing that leadership officials are asking us to write them a big blank check and only giving us false promises in return. This ballot question encourages us to waste our hard earned money on false solutions that will only enhance the public’s sense of despair, and distrust of government.

3) Officials claim that this resolution isn’t proposing a tax increase, but they know full well that once they have brazenly usurped the very popular SPET tax with the general sales tax there will be a deafening clamor to reinstate SPET. Special interest groups that are waiting in the wings right now with over $100 million dollars in SPET requests will do their dirty work for then and promptly lead the fight for a tax increase. Adding SPET back will require a 7th penny of tax. That’s not just another penny. It’s a 15% tax increase. They are crowding out SPET, a popular revenue source, with their own money grab. The resolution elected officials just passed is a backdoor tax increase and they know it.

Rather than trying to cajole us into giving them a blank check general sales tax increase with false promises and a failed track record, the Town and County should instead put concrete proposals for housing and transit on the existing SPET ballot and convince us they are worth the money. The idea of leaving it up to the voters to decide on a general sales tax increase sounds very democratic and transparent, but to present the voters with an enormously expensive, ineffective, and deceptive tax increase, and tell them it’s their only hope for relief from the challenges we face does a disservice to a community that is looking for real solutions.

 

Does our local government really want to solve our workforce housing problem or do they just want to look like they are trying to solve the workforce housing problem?

Does our local government really want to solve our workforce housing problem or do they just want to look like they are trying to solve the workforce housing problem?