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Pulse On Politics: Town candidates
As a cost-saving move, consolidation makes sense in a lot of ways. It also eliminates redundancy existing in many services provided by a town and county government that are, at times, virtually indistinguishable. Talk has heated up in recent years about merging the police department with the sheriff’s office. Their town counterparts already have filled vacant county positions.
The short-term rental issue is a tough one. Putting heads in beds is crucial for the local economy, but every VRBO-type rental is another potential longer-term rental unavailable for a workforce with nowhere to live. Neighborhood character is also threatened by commercial rentals.
PJH: Where do you stand on the topic of consolidation with the county? Consolidate what? Law enforcement, planning and zoning departments, anything else? Is this an effective way to save money? Do you view the town and county as competing on any level (for instance, sales tax revenue)? Do the town and county need to move toward the future with more emphasis on independence or cooperation? What would you say to the people whose jobs might be cut in consolidating moves?
Geneva Chong (mayor): I think the current consolidation of planning and zoning departments is sufficient at this time. I do not think consolidation is an automatic way to save money (downsizing). I think there can always be improvement in communication to have the two entities function more smoothly together as needed. Town and County need to collaborate on housing – not just by location (Town vs. County) but with a focus on where services are provided and needed (e.g., in town: hospital, schools, resort, businesses; in Wilson, Teton Village, etc.) and other areas and where infrastructure is and will be needed.
Sara Flitner (mayor): As a local business owner specializing in the field of collaborative problem solving with a lot of complexity, I value transparent cooperation where possible. I favor measures that save money, create efficiencies, and respond to the continual request from the community to consolidate services where possible. This question has been asked and answered, and the low hanging fruit has been harvested. You will hear me talk about balanced and data-driven approaches, over and over.
The law enforcement consolidation conversation is one that we can and should have, and it will require a true cost analysis and education to community members about the cost savings and the impacts to services. I favor this approach, and so do the professionals in law enforcement with whom I have spoken. We can’t have the tail wagging the dog in terms of protecting specific jobs, and our professionals know that. There are many ways to deal with the details, which are important, but the first step is getting a data-driven discussion underway.
Mark Nowlin (mayor): The Town and County have in the past explored implementing as many efficiencies as is legally possible. New consolidations should be continually explored with a view to long-term consequences. Town and County have different revenue sources available and different scope of services to provide. Cooperation is in everyone’s best interest. If jobs are eliminated, hopefully they can be by normal attrition.
Don Frank (council): Town of Jackson and Teton County elected and employees work on a collaborative level every day. A certain “de facto” collegial consolidation of shared purpose is operative but structural change remains restricted by several Wyoming state statues.
If it were legally viable any manageable redundancies, if they exist, might conceivably be reorganized toward optimal cost/service quality outcomes.
The Town of Jackson is currently sharing our planning director to assist Teton County commissioners while they seek to staff open positions. We are also considering sharing our town manager part time to help the Board of County Commissioners for similar staff shortage reasons on a temporary basis. I’m open-minded regarding synergies and am always willing to help as we are able.
The theorysuggests that [consolidation] can be cost effective. Jurisdictional constraints at present limit our capacity to fully explore. Both the town and county share limited resource streams and are responsive to ever-growing requests for service in town and valley wide.
The Town and County cooperate on many levels every day. Independence has its own inherent virtue in terms of unique concerns and task specific focus.
All of our hardworking, professional and productive staff are valuable and they deserve the utmost respect. Until state regulations might permit new organizational structure this idea remains untested.
John Stennis (council): Consolidation removes redundancy and makes best use of staff time and resources. The Town and County already have a number of joint agencies and my goal as councilman will be to ensure that these mergers make economic sense for our community and that proper oversight is in place to ensure responsibility. This has been very successful with Parks and Recreation and START Bus.
PJH: What would you do about short-term renting of houses mainly to tourists? Are they removing inventory for the workforce? Do they disrupt neighborhood values? Is it free enterprise?
Geneva Chong (mayor): I think the current regulations regarding short-term rentals should be enforced.
Sara Flitner (mayor): Both are true, which is why the problem is thorny. People tell me over and over that we want to be a community first, and to do that we have to have housing for working and middle class. However, they weigh in with as much frequency on property rights. As I continue to say, it’s a balancing act. Property rights, good manners, and ensuring that we aren’t changing zoning to add to the workforce housing problem are the three things that would guide my thinking on this topic.
Mark Nowlin (mayor): Short-term are problematic for many reasons.
There is a loss of employee housing opportunities, [an increase in] unregulated businesses, which do not contribute sales/lodging tax from which they benefit, and [they] a compliance nightmare.
Don Frank (council): With sufficient citizen and stakeholder input an approach that helps preserve workforce housing stock is possible. All solutions will involve balancing the application of land development regulations, zoning, public safety, neighborhood preservation and property rights.
John Stennis (council): Daily and weekly short-term rentals hurt our community by taking long-term rentals out of the market and should not be allowed outside of the lodging overlay. Let’s build more long-term housing by allowing property owners the right to have one or two rentals on their property and by giving developers an incentive to build smaller units with one or two bedrooms without penalties.