START Bus debunked

We enjoyed the common sense of Dick Aurelio regarding START Bus.

This Guest Shot was printed March 1, 2017.

O P I N I O N

Look at numbers before funding START

While a firm believer in public transportation, and in particular improving service to Victor, Driggs and Alpine to ease the housing shortage and reduce traffic in town, I think it is time to take a step back and see real progress with START before asking for more money as part of the upcoming special purpose excise tax vote.

START ridership has gone up since 2002, but it peaked and has remained flat since 2008. Yet we have spent over $60 million since then with no noticeable improvement in ridership, despite continued increases in operating costs. Furthermore, last year the Integrated Transportation Plan concluded that it would only improve at a rate of 1 or 2 percent a year over the next 10 years.

Given the importance of the other projects being considered, I recommend the START board and town and county electeds take a deep dive into the START financials to determine how to make additional operational improvements and demonstrating tangible results before throwing more money at START without the data to justify that spending.

With so many other worthy projects being considered, starting with affordable housing, and so little money available under SPET, $12 million a year, I’d like to share my thoughts on how to trim the START request, without affecting the objective of more and better public transportation.

After a review of the ITP, financials, fleet and ridership, here are some data points: 1. Ridership has been flat for the last eight years at approximately950,000, with half of that in the January to March quarter on the Teton Village route.

2. Three-quarters of the START revenue is taxpayerfunded at approximately $3 million a year.

3. Costs are projected to increase $491,000 (15 percent) in fiscal year ’17 over FY ’16 with the same level of service. Why?

4. None of the money spent on capital improvements (new buses, bus barn) that have been made over the last eight years are reflected on the balance sheet or in the profit and loss report. Had they been per GAP accounting, the taxpayer “cost of running START” would be more than double the $3 million per year.

5. Twenty-seven buses in the fleet, 11 sit idle at all times. All buses have less than 300,000 miles on them, life expectancy is typically 500,000.

Suggestions: A. Drop additional bus barn expansion from SPET and instead convert existing bus barn space into a maintenance facility. If a few buses sit outside overnight it will not affect life expectancy as they are designed to operate in harsh environments. This can be done out of existing town/county budget. B. Do add additional buses to the Alpine and Driggs routes for the reasons noted above, but start out by using existing excess bus capacity or bus rental to prove ridership will in fact increase before buying more buses. Note: Rafting buses are parked all over town, and I’m sure the owners would gladly rent them to START in the winter to test market additional service.

C. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort should pay its fair share of Teton Village route as half of total ridership is resort focused.

Cowboy math: Total taxpayer funding of START over last 10 years is approximately $60 million, and ridership is at 1 million a year. Cost to taxpayers is $6 each time a rider gets on a bus. Since half of that is to the Village in the first quarter of the year, that cost is $3 million a year. Richard Aurelio first skied in Jackson in 1967 and was finally able to move back in 2002. He was previously chairman and CEO of Varian Semiconductor Associates and board member of several public and private companies, with a background in engineering and finance. Guest Shots represent solely the opinion of the author.

GUEST SHOT

Richard Aurelio

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?