I have been a strong supporter of the 1 percent general revenue tax, the last question on the ballot. It’s a more effective way of funding town and county government. The overall tax rate stays the same at 6 percent, but the town is better positioned to budget for staffing, fuel, insurance and other ongoing operational costs. We cannot make significant investments in transportation and housing without it.
The town levies no property tax and receives no property tax revenue from Teton County. The town budget is tight, and we have been relying on state grants to bridge the gap between the rising cost of services and sales tax collections. Those grants have been cut sharply, and the state budget predicament is grim. It would be foolish for the town not to utilize all of our local funding options and instead slash services that residents depend on.
The Community Priorities Fund is a way to dedicate sales tax revenue from the general penny toward housing and transportation. It allows our engineers, public works team, planning and housing staff to budget strategically, with a recurring stream of revenue. It also provides transparency for the voters who will approve the tax or call for its repeal in future years. Citizens can call for a referendum on the tax with a petition of just 5 percent of registered voters.
State cuts to local government, infrastructure and social services are straining town and county budgets. Without the general penny of sales tax to pay for housing and transportation, we won’t have as much money for child care, seniors, mental health and other social services. We won’t be able to fund environmental and wildlife initiatives.
Our sales tax structure hasn’t changed since 1993, when the state added an additional penny. The town and county last raised the general sales tax rate in 1974. The specific purpose tax, or SPET, first was levied in 1986 and has been collected continuously since 1989. Over the last 30 years, we’ve used SPET to build an array of capital projects — rec center, library, 49 miles of pathways — but we struggle to pay for operation and maintenance of these facilities with our general revenue. The cost of providing services has risen astronomically since 1993, while sales tax collections haven’t quite kept pace.