SPET Sound Off

By on May 3, 2017

 

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Results from the SPET election poured in Tuesday evening and they reflected a shift from what the community once identified as key priorities: transportation and housing, at least among the 45 percent of voters who cast ballots.

The three START Bus initiatives lost the simple majority needed from the almost 6,000 Teton County residents who voted. The START projects on the ballot included funding for new buses ($6.5 million); housing for the local workforce adjacent to the bus barn ($8.3 million); and funding for a fleet and maintenance facility to be shared with the town and county ($15.3 million).

Teton County Commissioner Greg Epstein immediately took to social media Tuesday night to express his dismay that voters rejected using a sixth penny of sales tax for public transit improvements.

“A couple of months ago I reached out to the public and asked them for their input regarding traffic mitigation and transportation solutions. I received over 400 comments,” his post read. “Oddly enough this wasn’t reflected in the recent Teton County SPET election. I guess we just like complaining and not putting our money where our mouths are.”

Epstein then went on Instagram to post a video of bumper to bumper traffic along Highway 22 using a hashtag readers may be seeing more of in the coming months: #jhgridlock2017.

“I’m frustrated,” Epstein told PJH. “When I asked people in January about transportation, there were a lot of fiscally impossible suggestions, such as a hyperloop, a monorail, and a tunnel through Teton Pass. In theory those ideas sounds cool, but fiscally they’re not going to happen. When you start looking at what is really feasible, we have a couple things going on with transit—we have an aging START bus fleet and we have to expand our infrastructure.”

Epstein said moving forward, town and county electeds will have to learn how to do more with less. “I am all for that … that falls on decisions made by elected officials about infrastructure, schedules, without asking the public for money,” he said. “But public transit in general is a revenue negative thing—anywhere you go it is just something you subsidize because it makes the community a better place to live.”

While electeds like Epstein, Mayor Pete Muldoon and Councilman Jim Stanford were vociferous about the merit of the 10 SPET projects that electeds vetted, encouraging residents to cast their ballots on Tuesday, people like Bob Culver of the Jackson Hole Tea Party had advocated that voters proceed with caution.

“More [projects] passed than I thought—I expected only two or three would pass,” he said. “Overall I think that people are aware of the cost of these items. During the [town and county] meetings, several times the elected officials suggested sticker shock and voter pushback. People saw the $70 million dollar [total] price tag and that’s why they voted the way they did.”

Culver argued relying on START to alleviate traffic issues is misguided. “Our traffic ‘problem’ is less than the problem I have encountered in other areas, we have it easier than other places but if you try and travel during rush hour, you’re going to have to put up with it. People should travel more intelligently—stagger work hours … and there are traffic solutions such as work on the Y, which should be finished up pretty soon.”

Culver, who engaged in a public debate about SPET with Stanford last week, is among the voters happy that two of the three housing initiatives did not receive enough support to pass. Residents narrowly rejected using the sixth penny of sales tax to replenish the $4.05 million the town and county spent on the Redmond Hall rental housing project. The money would have been used to fund additional housing initiatives.

However, voters did approve the 21-unit housing project slated for the Teton County Rec Center, to house town and county workers for a price tag of almost $3 million. They also approved the other Rec Center project—improvements to the tune of $2.4 million. In addition, four other projects—plus a proposal to reallocate $1.5 million to build a pathway along South Highway 89—made the cut.

Voters approved a new St. John’s senior living center ($17 million); the construction of a new Central Wyoming College campus in Jackson ($3.82 million); renovations to Fire Station No. 1 and Fire Station No. 3 planning ($6.8 million) and a pedestrian initiative to improve town sidewalks ($1.5 million). Total price tag: $34 million.

St. John’s new senior center garnered more than 4,000 votes of approval, almost 69 percent. (The only project that amassed more public support was the fire station initiative at 72 percent.)

Speaking of community health, the SPET election has electeds like Epstein concerned for another reason. Just last week during town and county budget meetings, health and human service organizations made pleas for additional local funding in the face of state budget cuts. Among them, the Children’s Learning Center, PJH reported, is asking for an additional $98,000 from the town and county.

Now, Epstein warns of a domino effect.

“As more and more pressure mounts on the public sector to come up with new ways to generate revenue, it will put a massive strain on health and human service organizations,” he said. “The dollars we could have allocated to those programs we now have to weigh out—START and affordable housing, or youth and family services and mental heath? Those are really hard issues, but we are also talking about the lowest common denominator of human rights: personal health, well-being and quality of life. Thinking about this keeps me up at night.”

 


About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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