The Candidates: Teton County Commissioner

By on November 2, 2016

Teton County Commissioner
(two open seats)

Candidates: Trey Davis-R, Greg Epstein-D, Nikki Gill-R, Natalia D. Macker-D (incumbent)

Trey Davis-R

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Davis: The county and town can take opportunities to negotiate public-private partnerships by purchasing units or providing monies so more income-restricted units can be offered to the public. Other immediate solutions could be similar public-private partnerships such as the West View Town Homes Development being proposed on Highway 22, the Virginian RV Campground for immediate options during the winter months, and the Redmond-Hall rental project, which is shovel-ready. Longer-term solutions can include the five acres of property owned by the Teton County Housing Authority on Kennel Lane by the Aspens. These are all at different locations to fit the different needs of our Teton County communities.

Housing is one of the highest issues facing the valley. I believe that it is most important for the community that the location of projects allow for the highest number of rental units possible, that there be a mix of unit types (one-, two- and three-bedroom rentals or ownership), and that construction projects be managed well with strict oversight to keep the cost as minimal as possible, and that the timeframe for getting units on the ground be as quick as possible.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Davis: My ideas include modular homes in the short-term to afford rental options in the town and county. [I would look at] START Bus land, fairgrounds, possibly Virginian trailer park (public-private partnership) or the Stilson lot. I will also promote co-op and rental projects in the long-term and public-private partnerships to get them built. For example, a large rental project in Hog Island makes sense with the new school being built, as does adequate transportation options such as the START Bus to and from town.

I support START Bus options to and from Rafter J, Melody Ranch, Hog Island, Game Creek, and Hoback, which will promote alternative transportation for our workforce within Teton County.

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Davis: I would like to see SPET explored to contribute to a funding source for housing and transportation. SPET funds can be earmarked by voters and utilized for a specific purpose. As of now, three votes of an elected body can change a general sales tax designation, as can a vote of three at a regular budget meeting. This makes me nervous with the potential of budget cuts from the state, along with any county emergency that could arise and require monies from the general fund.

Q: Has the county done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the county do better?

Davis: The county can always improve the protection of natural resources, including wildlife. There are always answers to getting better, we just need to find them. I support funding for wildlife underpasses and overpasses that are part of the ITP. A wildlife crossing study is set for completion next year, and I look forward to considering some areas identified for such crossings. Additionally, the study of the effects of septic tanks on our water system is another example of information that might be useful to improve the water in our streams and our fisheries.

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Davis: Collaborating and working on housing solutions immediately so that workforce rentals can get on the ground. I will support rental housing projects that are shovel-ready and will support public-private partnerships to get housing built sooner versus later. I would also like to get our local resident Latinos more involved in our community.

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Greg Epstein-D

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Epstein: We must utilize all of our resources to address the lack of stable housing options. We need to pass the Community Priorities 1 percent sales tax to help fund housing solutions. We also need to change our land development regulations to make it easier for private developers and new businesses to create affordable and employee housing requirements. In addition, the town and county housing departments must work with housing organizations, developers, and employers to increase our stock of deed-restricted rental housing.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Epstein: I support “Town as Heart” and complete neighborhoods with smart alternative transportation connections that encourage residents to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips and the total number of vehicles on the road.

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Epstein: I support the Community Priorities 1 percent sales tax. We as a community cannot afford to let this opportunity slip by. With budget cuts coming from the state of Wyoming, and having our own set of community issues, we need to control our own fiscal future. This means we must leverage the four million annual Jackson Hole visitors who pay nearly two-thirds of our yearly general fund revenue. Our time is now to ensure government confidence within the community, and solidify an opportunity to create solutions for our housing and transportation needs. Otherwise we will have to use more inefficient measures like SPET, and keep the lodging tax intact in 2018 to support our community’s ongoing needs.

Q: Has the county done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the county do better?

Epstein: Protecting our wildlife and natural resources is a high priority for future development and transportation planning within the county. As Teton County moves forward with our long-term transit and housing plans, interactions with wildlife will become even more common if we do not take the necessary steps.

By considering complete neighborhoods and “Town As Heart,” we can reduce sprawl into natural habitat and migration corridors. In addition, we must reduce unnecessary vehicles on the road, slow traffic down, look at possible overpass/underpass solutions, and educate the public to be on the lookout for animals on the roads. Highway 390 is a good example of some of these solutions in action by reducing driving speeds at night.

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Epstein: In addition to our workforce housing and transportation issues, I intend to highlight the overall wellbeing of our community. This includes focusing on the necessary funding and support for various social services/agencies. For example: mental health care, counseling, elderly care, childcare, literacy and the needs of the underserved.

Regarding transportation, Teton County is not on WYDOT’s highway improvement schedule until 2022. In the meantime, I support a cultural shift away from our over-reliance of single-occupancy motor vehicles.

As stated in the Teton County Integrated Transportation Plan, creating a transportation authority will help centralize our community’s transit needs and solutions.

Other solutions include expanding START Bus schedules and service county-wide and regionally—make it easy, convenient and efficient. I also support commuting by bicycle on our pathway system, funding a Town of Jackson bike share program, and prioritizing complete streets. Finally, we need to establish a plan with WYDOT that takes into consideration our future community vision by looking at innovative traffic mitigation solutions such as roundabouts and HOV lanes to keep traffic moving before building wider roads in Teton County.

Nikki Gill-R

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Gill: Keeping our workforce local is my number one priority. It’s of the utmost importance for the overall health of our community. There are solutions and they can only be achieved with swift action and cooperation.

If you take a look at the metrics to date, the private sector has built over 90 percent of the existing workforce housing. Given that, I will work to help the private sector continue to build the lion’s share of new workforce housing. There isn’t one silver bullet that will solve all of our housing troubles. It’s going to take the efforts of the Housing Trust, Habitat for Humanity, and the private sector working in concert with one another.

Time is money, so why not fast-track quality—private sector proposals that create workforce housing without the use of taxpayer dollars. If our goal is to build housing, we should enable internal staff reviews to be faster in order to get more private sector workforce housing projects done.

It’s going to take all different types of housing to help with the housing crisis. Market rate and affordable rentals, deed-restricted housing, employment based housing, caretaker apartments, and accessory units will all help in keeping our workforce local.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Gill: The frustrating traffic we’ve experienced these last couple of years doesn’t have to be the new normal. The county needs to stop kicking the can down the road on decisions that could take hundreds of vehicles off the road every day. People want solutions. Safety requires it. Wildlife needs it.

The winter park-and-ride program at Stilson is the only one of its kind in Teton County, and it has proven success. Why not continue this program into the summer? Right now, during the summer months, a START bus only stops at Stilson if a rider calls and waits. Implementing this program during peak summer traffic months has the potential to take hundreds of cars off the road. Doing nothing at Stilson in the summer is unacceptable. I will help with common sense action so that summers to come are much different for people and for wildlife.

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Gill: The current proposal lacks definition. We need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a more defined, concrete proposal that’s project-specific before we implement a general tax increase. I want housing. I want traffic reduction. I support funding housing and transportation projects in our community through the use of SPET. That way the entire community gets a voice in which projects to support.

The role of government is to be honest, use common sense, and safeguard the public’s trust. I think SPET is a good tool to ensure that happens. The money collected through SPET is legally bound to each specific project. In contrast, no future commission can be legally bound to spend general sales tax dollars on transportation and housing. In the end, I support transparent, focused, and competitively bid projects.

Q: Has the county done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the county do better?

Gill: Stewardship is more than just a word for me; it’s something I practice daily. It’s an ethic. Our ranch is home to elk, bald eagles, moose, deer, fish, and the list goes on. My family has been stewards of this land for five generations. I’m proud of that and I want to be able to pass it on to the next generation of my family.

Wildlife deaths on our roadways are a top concern of mine. We need to reduce speeds. We need to educate drivers. And we need to work with landowners before we turn to regulation. I support widening shoulders on select roads in order to provide more space for animals and emergency vehicles. We can look at areas where there is dense vegetation next to high mortality points and address that so our valley’s beautiful wildlife has a better chance of survival as they cross our roads.

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Gill: My first priority is to work efficiently and productively with all my fellow commissioners. In order to do my job well it’s critical that I understand the issues facing our community from all different perspectives so I can make decisions after taking all points of views into consideration.

I want to address daycare in this community; nearly every provider has a yearlong waitlist. I have friends that sign up for daycare before they even announce their pregnancy to family and friends. It’s something that needed to be addressed yesterday.

I’m also focused on something practical and real: tone and character. The edgy, hostile tones of some public dialogue should go. Give “nice” a try. Civil, nice, responsible, honest, common sense, solve the problem and move on—that’s what I’m about. Work hard. Do good work. Period.

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Natalia D. Macker-D

Q: Housing, housing, housing. Is it the number one issue facing the valley? What specific ideas do you have, or are you willing to explore, to create affordable workforce housing?

Macker: Generating more diversity in housing options in Teton County is one of our community priorities because our middle class and working families are core to our community. My focus for housing is on preserving existing stock, purchasing land and partnering with the private sector, and increasing options for rentals.

Q: Transportation goes hand-in-hand with housing. We’re experiencing very congested roads in the summer, and beyond. Ideas?

Macker: Transportation priorities include improved bus service in Teton County to accommodate underserved areas of the valley as well as expanded commuter service to accommodate workers beyond traditional 9- to-5 jobs. We need to work with WYDOT to address our intersections—including considering a roundabout at Highways 390/22—and I would support partnering with Grand Teton National Park to pilot a transit system in the park. If we want to reduce traffic, we need to get visitors and residents on buses, bikes, and on foot; and it needs to be convenient to do so.

Q: General sales tax. Are you for or against a Community Priorities Fund for housing and transportation? What about its 50-50 split between housing and transportation? Are you for or against using one penny of general sales for this fund? Are there other revenue streams you want to explore?

Macker: I support the Community Priorities Fund because we need dedicated revenue to make real progress on the goals of our Housing Action Plan and Integrated Transportation Plan, both of which are extensions of our Comprehensive Plan. We’ve done the planning and if we want to see them implemented we need committed funds. The general revenue penny is the most effective tool we have available to us at this time, and I prefer it because our visitors pay around 60 percent of it. I would be interested in other revenue streams, but they will take longer to get in place.

Q: Has the county done enough to protect natural resources, especially wildlife? How can the county do better?

Macker: Conservation is our most shared community value. I am proud of the efforts in our community—by the government, the private sector, nonprofits, and private landowners—to conserve open space and protect wildlife habitat. I supported funding for our focal species habitat study—a groundbreaking effort which will enable us to effectively update our natural resource protections. I also supported funding for our wildlife crossings master plans. We do need to look at the impacts we are having on our waterways and groundwater, including continuing to pursue mapping of septic systems across the county.

Q: What are some of your highest priorities?

Macker: My priorities are aligned with what I consistently hear from my constituents: wildlife habitat connectivity, affordable housing, effective transit, and accessible health and social services. PJH

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