Fuller knocks lack of public input on SPET
But other candidates in county race say it was OK for town, county to pick projects for ballot.
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 24, 2012
Jackson and Teton County elected officials should have allowed other groups to apply for a piece of a 1-cent specific purpose excise tax, county commission candidate Claire Fuller said.
Fuller, a Democrat, was the only candidate who called out elected officials on the issue Tuesday during a luncheon hosted by the Rotary Club of Jackson Hole and the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.
“Because it is your money, I think you need to have a voice,” she said.
She was answering a question about whether candidates thought it was appropriate for town and county officials to forgo public input about what items should be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot for the 1-cent sales tax that historically has been used to pay for a wide variety of community projects.
The other candidates — town Councilor Melissa Turley, a Democrat; town Planning Commissioner and real estate broker Barbara Allen, a Republican; and incumbent Commissioner Paul Perry, a Republican — said they support elected officials’ decision to stake out what will appear on the general election ballot.
“The town and county had timely and pressing needs,” Turley said.
Allen agreed: “I believe it’s appropriate for elected officials to make decisions that recognize priorities in the community that need to be dealt with.”
Perry, who was appointed to the board in 2010, said community groups have proposed great projects in past years, but these proposals haven’t always considered the long-term costs of projects, costs that often fall on elected officials.
“Those things have to be looked at,” he said.
In past elections, town councilors and county commissioners have opened the process to outside groups. In 2010, voters approved projects to expand Teton County Library and St. John’s Medical Center. The tax also is helping to pay for a new pathway on North Highway 89, energy-efficiency projects for public buildings, planning efforts for a new START maintenance facility and upgrades at the Wilson boat launch.
This year, elected officials decided not to seek public input. They approved three items for the general election ballot.
They are asking voters to set aside nearly $13.5 million to buy 10 acres on North Cache Street from the U.S. Forest Service, $4.3 million to complete a pathway project between downtown Jackson and the Stilson Ranch parking lot and $14.5 million to clean up the county’s old landfill in Horsethief Canyon and start planning to expand solid waste facilities there.
Reservations about land buy
When questioned about individual projects, candidates said they support the landfill proposal but have reservations about the Forest Service proposal.
Fuller said she plans to vote for the project, though she said it’s more important that residents get to make the decision.
“Public lands should stay in public hands,” she said.
Turley said the land deal affords town officials the rare opportunity to take control of a prime piece of real estate. It also is expected to sweeten the deal to keep the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s headquarters in Jackson.
“The last time I checked, they were making more money but they weren’t making more land,” Turley said.
Allen questioned the price of the land and whether the purchase will accomplish anything. Without a direct link between the land sale and the decision to keep the supervisor’s office in Jackson, she said she wouldn’t support the deal.
“I don’t see the value in spending $13 million for an off-street parcel on which the town already controls the zoning,” she said Tuesday.
Perry also voiced doubts about the project. Public officials should encourage the Forest Service to keep its supervisor’s office in Jackson, he said, but he wasn’t sure town government should be in charge of that land.
“It should be developed in the private sector,” he said.
The chamber is slated to host a lunch Thursday during which town and county staffs are will explain the three projects seeking tax dollars. The luncheon is scheduled to run from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Snow King Resort. Lunch costs $20 for chamber members, $25 for nonmembers.