Final meeting on SPET Monday, Feb. 26

As town and county leaders near the deadline for finalizing a SPET ballot of wishlist items they think will be most palatable at the polls in May, the total dollar amount hasn’t shrunk much…if at all. The joint board is still at $88 million in proposed taxes with less than 3 days to make final cuts. Maybe there won’t be any more whittling. Maybe our electeds will be fine with asking us citizens to pay $88 million in taxes this spring.

How will you vote?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judd Grossman’s letter to the Planet editors was informative.

 

SPET: Add your 2 cents (or 1 cent)

Save Historic Jackson Hole would like to remind citizens that you have an opportunity to be heard regarding the latest sales tax hike proposed by government. The special purpose excise tax (SPET) is back. Town and county representatives would like to put several SPET initiatives on a May 2, 2017 special election ballot.

The meeting will take place on Monday, January 23 at 2 p.m. in the commissioners chambers.

If you can spare the time, please attend the meeting to discuss what items should be included in a round of SPET, and whether a second penny should be added to your sales tax in order to cover a wish list that exceeds $100 million. A total of $53.2M going toward 8 town/county projects is currently the ticket preferred by a SPET committee. Another $35.1M was whittled out by the committee but could be in play should electeds decide to increase SPET to 2 pennies. And still an additional $6.75M is being requested by Central Wyoming College for construction of a Jackson campus, and $17M in matching funds is desired by St. John’s Medical Center for a new living center.

Much to our surprise and disappointment, there is still no talk of money being appropriated for what this community says it values most: wildlife. As we continue to mow down 400 animals a year on our roadways (this winter has been even more devastating), elected officials have not appropriated money for wildlife crossings nor have they offered to put such a project on the SPET ballot.

Find out more.

Show up or catch the livestream.

 

 

Like it grows on trees

“Eclipsing” even a Teton County spending spree.

Our local government is hard at it again: spending. Faced with what critical care and first responders claim is a virtual Armageddon scenario, town and county officials have been convinced to set fire to a hundred grand for the planning of the Great American Eclipse. The complete solar eclipse will take place in Jackson Hole at 11:35 a.m. on Aug. 21, 2017. It will last approximately 127 seconds. For that, elected officials are hiring a fulltime dedicated employee for $50,000, and dropping another 50-large on “preparations,” which basically amount to renting as many porta-potties as the county can get their hands on.

After studying the dire situation, Teton County Emergency Management Coordinator Rich Ochs assembled a team of 37 stakeholders including local law enforcement, park and forest officials, and medical personnel. They ran through a two-day Threat and Hazard Identification Risk Assessment training seminar for a solar event that will last two minutes. The horrors of it all is, according to Ochs, the fact that the event will be so popular it will (wait for it, and try not to gasp out loud) draw tourists to Jackson Hole. Perhaps as many as 40,000, according to some estimates.

The reasonable person might have two thoughts here:

  1. We are already a tourist destination hosting about 4 million people, annually. We’ve managed to survive this long.
  2. Planning for this event sounds like a job for Rich Ochs.

Ochs told town and county politicians he was stretched to max, especially during summer, and would greatly benefit from a new hire that could oversee the planning and coordination of handling MAYBE 40,000 visitors for one day in August. That bill would come to $100,000—$50k for the position’s salary and another $50k for his/her expense account.

Expected path of the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

It’s a waste of money, pure and simple. And for what? This event could end up being a bust. Town and county officials may be getting all worked up over nothing. SHJH managed to obtain the following email from town council member Jim Stanford who was the sole “nay” vote on the spending spree. Stanford addressing county commissioners via email wrote:

All,

Below is a link to one of the major websites offering information about the eclipse. Note that Jackson is not one of the “best places” recommended.

I just spoke with a friend who used to live here and is a journalist. He is also an eclipse enthusiast who has traveled to witness total eclipses from Alaska to Asia, Africa and Australia.

The eclipse fanatics are dedicated but a relatively small and nerdy group, he said. We ought to be preparing for a few hours of bad traffic—the event will not be Woodstock but more like the 4th of July fireworks, he said.

What eclipse watchers value most are duration of totality and road access, which as this website makes clear is important for driving elsewhere to seek clear skies if necessary. As such, Jackson Hole is less desirable because of its distance from interstates. And the place with longest duration of totality is Missouri.

I remain opposed to spending $100,000 on this, given the current county law enforcement budget and the fact that the money could be spent on many other deserving programs.

For what it’s worth,

JS

 

Into a new era

Some old, some new…local government takes shape for 2017.

County

Natalia D. Macker (L) and Greg Epstein (R) sworn in for their four-year terms on the Board of County Commissioners.

At the Board of County Commissioner meeting, Greg Epstein and Natalia D. Macker were sworn in for the start of their four-year terms as commissioners. It was Macker’s first election victory despite having two years under her belt. She was tapped to replace outgoing Melissa Turley in 2015. It’s Epstein’s first foray into politics. Both Macker and Epstein are Democrats. The BCC is now Paul Vogelheim-R, Smokey Rhea-D, Mark Newcomb-D, Natalia D. Macker-D, and Greg Epstein-D. Newcomb was named chair, and Macker named vice-chair by a vote of the board.

Click on photo to email. Click on logo to email entire BCC.

 

Mark Newcomb
Natalia D. Macker
Greg Epstein
Smokey Rhea
Paul Vogelheim

City

Hailey Morton Levinson (L), Pete Muldoon (C), and Jim Stanford (R) take oath of office for the Town Council on January 3, 2017.

At the first town council meeting of the year, two familiar faces were re-sworn to the council and a new mayor was seated. Hailey Morton Levinson and Jim Stanford both vowed under oath to uphold the duties of town council for another two years, each. Mayor Sara Flitner handed the reins to Jackson to Pete Muldoon, who will serve the city’s first four-year term. The council consists of Bob Lenz, Don Frank, Jim Stanford, Hailey Morton Levinson, and Mayor Pete Muldoon.

Click on photo to email. Click on logo to email entire Town Council.

Pete Muldoon
Jim Stanford
Don Frank
Hailey Morton Levinson
Bob Lenz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’d like to know…

The new online poll in the Jackson Hole News&Guide is asking what you would like to see a possible future SPET go toward.

With a general excise tax shot down in November now off the table, a Community Priorities Fund is still in need of actual funding. Will this come from SPET, or would you rather see something else done with your tax dollars? Or would you vote not to reinstate SPET at all?

The special purpose excise tax is scheduled to terminate sometime around April/May 2017 at the current rate of sales tax collection. Citizens of Teton County will likely be asked to vote on whether they want new SPET ballot items to pick up again next summer.

Check out the poll and add your two cents. (Well, actually, you would be adding your one cent if you vote for SPET again.)

I want to vote!

 

Gilding the Lily

We’re passing along this fantastic letter to your elected leaders from former SHJH director and now board member Armond Acri.  It’s concerning the proposed North Cache Wildlife Viewing Platform, which was up for final approval on December 19 and, in fact, did pass on a 4-1 vote with councilman Jim Stanford opposed.
The artwork has rankled some on a number of fronts from “wrong concept” to “wrong place.” Given that the exhibit would be incorporated within the Murie Family Park, we were very interested in hearing what the surviving members of the Murie family think about it. And they don’t like it.

We refer to our favorite response here from Jan O. Murie:

“Only recently did I learn of the proposal to build a boardwalk in the park on North Cache and saw the artist’s rendition of the project. Although I am ordinarily sympathetic to public art projects, this one is an unnecessary intrusion in a park that serves as an oasis in the hurly-burly of downtown Jackson. The views from this park are already attractive and provide a suitably low key approach for people to view the wildlife occupying the adjacent marshland. The presence ofthe raised boardwalk does not enhance the aesthetic nature of the park.

My objection to the project as currently outlined is based primarily on two issues. Most important is the potentially adverse effect the raised structure and increased visitation could have on the animals in the marsh particularly nesting birds. That issue requires a detailed evaluation before any such project is approved.

Secondarily, since the park was named for the Murie family, it seems entirely inappropriate to build any sort of elaborate structures within it that clashes so harshly with their minimalist approach to interacting with nature. My cousin Donald has expressed this point well in his letter to you, so I won’t belabor it here as I think it well reflects the views of our extended family.

I urge you to not approve this project as currently outlined. If some improvements to the park are deemed necessary, please make them less intrusive and more in keeping with the values of those for whom the park was named.”

 

Here is Armond’s letter:

Mayor Flitner and member of Town Council,

I will be unable to attend your meeting on Monday to comment on the proposed Wildlife Platform because I will be in transit to visit family for Christmas. As you begin your meeting I should be crossing the border from Wyoming into Nebraska, but I will be thinking about this project and what is best for our community.

I hope you will honor the request by the Murie family to take more time to evaluate this project. There are many unanswered questions about the impact on wildlife. The size of the project does not seem appropriate for the location.

My biggest concern however is that there is a good possibility that this project will be torn down in 2-3 years to accommodate a new visitor center. That is not a responsible use of tax dollars. I would ask that you delay this project until it is clear that it is not necessary to tear down or relocate this project. Pushing forward a project of this size and then tearing it down in 2 or 3 years will undermine confidence in the ability of the Town Council to manage our tax money. It might also result in a major backlash against public art.

Let’s take our time and make a good decision wildlife and our citizens can live with. Please do not waste our tax dollars. Thank you and best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Armond Acri Jackson, WY

Town explores renter protection laws

Plans to explore some kind of renter’s protection in Jackson Hole are underway. Mayor-elect Pete Muldoon is leading the charge to try to see how the town can get involved through ordinance or other methods of drawing up laws that could cap rents or provide more recourses for tenants when dealing with property-owning landlords. While SHJH is troubled by landlords who abuse their tenants, we believe adequate recourses are available to renters currently under state statute and any additional laws enacted to “protect” renters could actually harm landlords.

 

SHJH recently participated in an article by Planet Jackson Hole. Our quotes are highlighted here:

 

There have been several vocal opponents to perceived expansion of local government. One of the more prominent groups is Save Historic Jackson Hole. However, even SHJH is alarmed by news of some local rental practices.

SHJH’s Jake Nichols stated in an email that the organization is generally opposed to renter protections and they feel state statutes offer enough protection for both owners and renters.

However, SHJH is troubled by isolated incidents of unfair evictions, subpar, unhealthy or unsafe living conditions, or fear of retaliation for repair requests. Nichols reminded that landlords can be “victims of inconsiderate renters who bolt from their agreements or cause damage to property that is ultimately the owner’s responsibility.” A lease is beneficial for all parties, he added, and rental caps are acceptable for government subsidized and government provided housing.

Hidden Cost: dense neighborhood headed for Jackson

Hidden Hollow moved forward this week when the town council approved the sketch plan for the 168-unit residential neighborhood on Monday.

Background

Hidden Hollow is a proposed development for the former Forest Service property on North Cache. The Hansen brothers from Idaho Falls—who also own Bischoff in Jackson—purchased the 10-acre parcel last year. The property was also rezoned in 2015 to Urban Residential.

The proposed project consists of 13 detached single family units, 20 attached single family units (townhomes) and 135 attached single family units (condominiums) or apartments within 5 buildings.

The Good

The Hansen Brothers seem truly committed to developing something that they feel is sorely needed in this community: housing. They plan to take advantage incentives provided through the revamped PUD tool that will put 45 deed-restricted (in addition to the 27 employee housing units they will build) in exchange for the right to build up to 48 feet high. This project will house a good many people that are currently unable to find anything in the valley. A good mix of rental and ownership units will provide some relief for the housing crunch and do so on the back of the private sector.

The Bad

This is a massive neighborhood; the biggest since Cottonwood. At 168 units, it is large and dense. Town staff have worked the spreadsheet out at 16.8 units per acre (figuring the property at 10 acres) but the fact is less than 70% of that land is buildable. The rest is wetlands abutting the Elk Refuge. So the development is very dense.

Traffic will be a major issue. Development reps estimate an additional 1,200-plus trips will be generated in and out of their every day. That number seems low. Mercill will be slammed.

Environmental impacts to the sensitive wetlands area will also be significant.

Vigilant Monitoring

Save Historic Jackson Hole will be watching this project closely. The impacts are numerous. Many are clamoring for housing it’s true. This development will house many and do it without government funding. But at what cost to our quality of life? The town, the valley, is near capacity if not at capacity. Shoving an additional 588 people (168 units x 3.5 average occupants) into downtown Jackson is a scary proposition. Will our infrastructure be able to handle it? Sewer/water, roads, calls for service to first responders?

What are your thoughts? Do we need housing that bad? Can we fix a problem without creating two or three more? We can’t turn back time and return to a quieter, simpler Jackson we all remember, but do we need to rush headlong into a future Jackson that looks like Idaho Falls?

 

 

Nothing but the truth, please

Did you catch Louis Wang’s “Guest Shot” in this week’s News&Guide?

The informative article contains some important facts and data points often overlooked or simply misrepresented. Again, there is no denying Jackson Hole has an imbalance in its supply of affordable housing versus commercial development. Study after study has shown that to be a stark reality. What is most often debated is how to go about addressing the disparity.

Save Historic Jackson Hole maintains that many politicians—with the aid of biased reporting—believe the solution lies in taxing the public to pay for problems created by employers who don’t pay an adequate living wage, and greedy developers who develop commercial properties that exacerbate our housing and traffic problems without being held financially accountable to adequately mitigate their impacts.

Following is Wang’s opinion piece in the November 23 issue of the News&Guide.

O P I N I O N   

GUEST SHOT

Balanced reporting is always required

Balanced reporting of the news can be challenging. It’s easy to attend public meetings and repeat what the politicians said, but real news coverage cannot end there. Elected officials have their viewpoint, why this or that happened, but it’s only one viewpoint. And it may not be accurate.

The press is obligated to present both sides of an issue, and sometimes that doesn’t happen.

The lead article in last week’s News&Guide, “Tax denied, town needs new funding,” may be off-base. The tax was for housing and transportation — $12 million a year for public housing and the bus.

Maybe voters said no to the expanded programs themselves, not just the funding source. Maybe they’re against more public housing and buses.

The bus isn’t a transportation solution and voters know that. Subsidized housing increases crowding and traffic gridlock. Maybe voters didn’t want more gridlock.

It’s more likely voters were simply defending their quality of life. They just want a livable place to call home.

One town councilor said “we’re being asked to address transportation and housing problems” and “we’re not afforded the funds.”

Voters denied the funds. That’s true. And the same voters are extremely generous as evidenced by many $-millions of voluntary giving. So why would they say no?

They didn’t agree with the program. They don’t see middle class public housing as a solution to the problem of overcrowding. It makes things worse, not better.

The pro-tax folks spent a lot more money than the anti-tax folks. The pro folks put up a fancy website, too, and they lost.

Politicians need to accept the loss and stop pretending voters support their big-growth agenda.

Maybe the headline should have been “Voters say no to public housing.”

The article warns of “increasing congestion due to the council’s fiscal inability to fund projects.” That’s simply not true. Funding the projects will increase congestion. More people, more congestion.

Voters said “no” to limit congestion and protect their quality of life.

Politicians think they have a mandate for public housing, but that never came from the voters. There is no mandate for housing or the bus. The mirage of a mandate came from politicians that spent five years manipulating the comp plan.

Voters never voted on the so called “community priorities” stated in the comp plan. And the politicians that crafted the plan never did a real transportation study. Maybe they didn’t want to know the answer.

A legitimate transportation study will show what voters know already: Our road network is maxed out. Highway 22 is maxed out, the “Y” is a big-time bottleneck and you cannot push more traffic through town. Maybe the headline should have read “Voters say no to more gridlock.”

Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of pretense in local politics. The truth is:

  1. The Comp Plan isn’t the people’s plan. Politicians spent more than $200,000 to ensure voters couldn’t vote on it.
  2. Voters never said yes to the “community priorities.” They were dictated by politicians in the Comp Plan.
  3. The Comp Plan is only an advisory document, but politicians treat it as gospel when it suits them.
  4. The bus has been around for four decades and carries only 1 percent of trips. Voters subsidize 85 percent of the cost. As a transportation solution, the bus is a failure.
  5. Subsidized workforce housing is a handout to local businesses. Voters don’t want to subsidize local businesses, some of which are very wealthy.
  6. The Chamber of Commerce supports public housing and transportation because it’s money in its members’ pockets.

We need to be realistic. Our roadways can’t handle more growth. In an August 2015 article, the News&Guide reported that a Jackson man had “seen his 20-minute drive from work in Teton Village increase to a full hour.”

On Nov. 8 voters said no to overcrowding. They said no to local government housing and transportation programs, not just the funding.

They voted for a livable Jackson Hole. Louis Wang is a Jackson resident affiliated with Save Historic Jackson Hole. Columns expressly represent the views of the author.

Louis Wang

Tax Tanks

Was it merely resistance to a tax hike?
Was it reluctance to hand our local leaders a blank check and trust the money will make it’s way to housing and transportation?
Was it a rejection of the socialist aspect of government-provided housing for the middle class?
Was it the trickery and deceitfulness employed by town and county officials, who were so desperate to develop another funding source they insisted this was not a tax increase when it was obvious that most voters saw through that?

It could have been a number of things, but the fact remains: the people have spoken. If we are to address our housing shortage and traffic challenges we will have to do so with a careful, measured approach that involves more than just throwing money at the problems.
As in the referendum, once again Save Historic Jackson Hole feels so very fortunate that the intentions of the majority were heard, acknowledged, and triumphant.
It’s time to move forward, as a community dedicated to retaining our small town, western charm.