GUEST OPINION: We Forgot About Karyn

By on November 1, 2016

Why you should vote for the 1 percent local option sales tax.

By pure coincidence, Karyn Greenwood (and Eric and Zoë) also happens to be featured in the “People” section of this election issue. Read Karyn’s thoughts on page 16.  (Photo: Megan Peterson)

By pure coincidence, Karyn Greenwood (and Eric and Zoë) also happens to be featured in the “People” section of this election issue. Read Karyn’s thoughts here.  (Photo: Megan Peterson)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – I’m often asked why the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance has endorsed the 1 percent  local option sales tax on the November ballot. The tax—found at the end of your ballot as the “General Revenue Sales and Use Tax”—will support investments in reducing congestion and creating affordable housing for our middle class.

It’s not complicated. Skyrocketing housing costs and gridlock on our roads are threatening our quality of life, community character and wildlife. So it’s up to us to make sure Jackson Hole remains a place where middle class families can afford to live and work. And if we don’t act, our traffic problems will only get worse. We simply can’t afford to kick the can down the road any longer.

We need to come together and act now to responsibly address two of Jackson Hole’s highest priorities: creating affordable housing options and reducing traffic congestion.

This fall, our community can invest in a better future for Jackson Hole by voting for the 1 percent local option sales tax. By supporting this option, you can address the need for affordable housing, create transportation choices that will reduce traffic congestion, and better connect the places where we work, live, and play.

Even better, since funds from this measure will focus on building housing in town and other complete neighborhoods, it will help protect against development spreading into our open spaces and wildlife habitat. In addition, by giving commuters the choice to take convenient transit to get to work, it will take cars off our roads and help reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.

But really, it’s about people like Karyn. You might remember her from the PJH piece I wrote last June (Guest Opinion: “Don’t Forget About Karyn,” June 3, 2015).

Three weeks before I wrote about her last summer, Karyn had told me that she and her husband were exhausted from the continual stress of trying to find an affordable place to call home and had decided to leave Jackson Hole. With a degree in wildlife biology, years of experience working in conservation, and a husband who is a successful chef, middle class people like Karyn should be planting roots in our community, not moving away.

Nearly all of us know people like Karyn who have trouble finding an affordable place to live in Jackson Hole. Most of us have friends who commute up the canyon or over the pass but would love to live here if they could afford it. And most of us couldn’t afford to buy a house if we moved here today. It’s hard for our community to have character when the characters that define it pack up and leave.

Well, over the past year Karyn and her husband cowboyed up and found a way to hang on just a little longer. Finally, the stress and challenge of bouncing from place to place and trying to raise their newborn daughter Zoe out of their camper trailer broke them. Next month they’re leaving our community and moving to Burlington, VT. I’d bet you’ve had many friends like Karyn who, despite their grit and determination, just couldn’t make it work here.

Look, I get it. It’s hard to live here. It always has been and always will be, and those of us who have struggled to make it work in this incredible place are damn proud of it.

Here’s the thing, over the past few years it’s gone from hard to nearly impossible. It’s wonderful that many of you reading this moved here in the 70s and 80s and found a way to make this special place home, but it’s been 30 years since  someone earning the area median income could afford the median priced home. This means if you’re a teacher, policeman, nurse, or firefighter, good luck living in the community you serve.

If the people who work here can’t afford to live here, we lose our middle class. While we have taken constructive steps toward addressing our housing challenge in recent years, we have not done enough. We forgot about Karyn.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The 1 percent local option sales tax will generate $40 to 48 million over four years, with the proceeds directed toward a Special Revenue Fund created by the town and county and split equally between investments in affordable housing and transportation choices.

It  will support investments in affordable housing so hardworking middle class families like Karyn’s can afford to live in our community.

Fifty percent of the funds generated by this measure will be leveraged to preserve existing housing stock, purchase land, and partner with the public and private sectors. Our community and small local businesses will benefit by keeping long-term neighbors and employees here in Jackson Hole.

It will also support responsible investments in transportation choices that will take cars off our roads and reduce traffic congestion.

Fifty percent of the funds generated by this measure will go towards making the START bus more convenient by improving commuter services over the pass and down the canyon while increasing routes to and from Teton Village, South Park, and Wilson; and making it safer to walk and bike through more sidewalks and bike lanes.
The money raised will support only approved affordable housing and transportation projects through a public and transparent budget process. It does not raise taxes. You’ll pay the same tax rate you are used to paying, since an existing 1 percent local option sales tax expires next spring. And voters will control its renewal after four years.

Since tourists spend so much money here, two-thirds of the sales tax will end up being paid by visitors rather than those of us who live here year-round.

All of this is why a broad and diverse coalition including Friends of Pathways, the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, The Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust, One22, ShelterJH, Teton Gravity Research, the Teton Village Association, Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, Wyoming Pathways, and many other organizations and hundreds of your friends and neighbors have come together as part of the Community Priorities Coalition to support voting for the 1 percent local option sales tax.

Please join us in voting for the 1 percent local option sales tax to protect our middle class and our quality of life. Let’s remember Karyn.

Visit cpcjh.org for more info about the 1 percent local option sales tax. PJH

Craig Benjamin is the executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

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About Craig Benjamin

Craig Benjamin is the executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

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