Natalia D. Macker
*Candidate Peter Long did not submit a questionnaire.
How do you feel about the ballot measure to add an additional penny of sales tax? If voters approve this measure, where do you think the new revenue should go?
Christian Beckwith: I’m opposed to new taxes on Teton County residents, preferring to find economic efficiencies in current expenditures and leveraging the visitation of tourists—for example via congestion pricing—to underwrite core services. That said, in the midst of the economic downturn, we must remain able to provide core services such as Fire, EMS, and health and human services while at the same time following the Comp Plan’s vision to “protect and preserve our ecosystem,” as the ecosystem is both why we live here and the golden goose of our economy. The additional penny will provide us with the ability to do so.
Greg Epstein: I’m ok with putting the 7th penny question on the ballot. Let the voters make the decision. If the measure passes, I would like the revenues to go towards community health in the form of the following:
- Social services/ health care for the most in need
- Water quality improvements
- Safe, affordable/ workforce housing opportunities
- Increased levels of service for public transit.
There may be other uses as well, but these stand out as my priorities.
Wes Gardner: I will be voting for the extra penny.
First, we need to hire a Sustainability Director. Having spent a few hours with Luke Cartin, the Sustainability Director for Park City, I am convinced that hiring a Director of his caliber could represent the single most significant opportunity to help us reduce our impacts.
Second, I would utilize the funds from the extra penny to increase our funding to develop permanent, affordable housing dedicated to our workforce.
Third, 8000 commuters make daily trips to town; only 300 of these commuters take the START bus. We must make significant investment in our commuter routes.
Finally, and most importantly, about half of our sales tax revenue is generated by our visitors. The impacts on locals are minimal ($10/$1000 spent), but the benefits could be significant.
Even if the tax fails to pass, I will continue to work toward these objectives.
Natalia D. Macker: I supported placing the sales tax penny on the ballot, and I personally will be voting for it. With the state’s declining revenues, more expectations – and hopefully more opportunity – will be left to local government. Further, sales tax is one of the best tools we have for engaging our visitors in generating revenue to assist with impacts and services needed. As a general revenue penny, the funds will be available for budgeting in our annual budgeting process, a process that I would like to see include more participatory budgeting from the community. I would expect priorities for the added revenue to include health and human services, emergency response personnel, early childhood education, transit and transportation planning, climate action measures, and others.
Planning is about how, and for whom, we create the future of our community. Wildlife, year-round residents, second homeowners, and tourists all depend on our one-of-a-kind landscape for ecosystem services, health, and our economy. What is your dream scenario for the future of Jackson Hole? What is your nightmare?
Christian Beckwith: The world is at a tipping point. Climate change, invasive species, the loss of habitat and population growth are contributing directly to the sixth mass extinction, a polluted environment, direct threats to our water and food and geopolitical disruption as people are forced to leave their homes just to survive.
Jackson Hole is at a tipping point. Unbridled growth to accommodate the insatiable desire to live here has contaminated our water, fragmented our habitat, and accelerated demands for housing, which in turn is pricing out many of our neighbors.
We can do better. We must do better. And if we act now, we have an opportunity to draw from the power of this place and create a model community living in balance with its natural surroundings.
My dream scenario is that we make decisions that meet our needs in a manner that preserves and protects the area’s ecosystem, community and economy, for this and future generations.
Greg Epstein: In my nightmare scenario, we inadvertently prioritize resort before community, by distorting the use of the word conservation to continue to stifle smart growth in Teton County. The conversation will continue to create a fear that conservation needs to compete against basic human needs, like affordable housing. We will continue using the same processes and zoning that are currently available in the county and only react to whatever comes down the pipeline. As a result, more sprawl, more vehicle miles traveled, more pollution and more dead wildlife. People who can afford the free market will continue to move here with new expectations and those that cannot will move away. Unfortunately, many of those moving away are longtime community members and part of the workforce that supports the expected levels of service for our year-round economy.
On the bright side, there is a way forward, but it’s it going to take courage.
Wes Gardner: Housing costs in our community are among the highest in the nation, and global pressures continue to push them higher. This reality forces many of our working families into long distance commuters. This exodus detracts from our community character, as many of our nurses, teachers, and other workers cannot afford to live here.
In my dream scenario, Teton County will become a model gateway community. We should continue to partner with the private sector and our committed housing partners to develop permanently affordable workforce housing in appropriate locations.
We should deploy a transit system that is more effective, offering bus trip times that challenge single occupancy vehicle trip times. I envision a system with more routes and more riders supported by partnerships with local employers.
We should continue to move toward higher water quality standards by reducing our reliance on septic systems, especially in areas with high water tables.
Natalia D. Macker: My dream scenario is that we use all of our resources – financial and otherwise – to innovate in planning. That we balance people, landscape, and wildlife and take measured risks to think for the future, not merely deploy tools from the past. That we integrate conservation with care for our most vulnerable. That we invite all the voices to the table to build an inclusive future. That we fully integrate accessibility and mobility into our physical infrastructure.
My nightmare scenario is that we fail to seriously address our equality issues, leading to a community devoid of working families and segregation behind gated roads. This plays out in all arenas in our community, from affordable housing to healthcare and water quality to transit. If we do not take an equity lens in planning, we will continue to exacerbate our problems. A healthy, vibrant, and diverse community requires planning that centers equity.
The Comprehensive Plan vision is to “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem.” What does “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem” mean to you, and what are three specific actions our community should take in the next four years to work toward this vision?
Christian Beckwith: We’re all here for a simple reason: this unique place. Protecting it can and should be the North Star guiding our decisions. Why does the Comp Plan say we should protect our ecosystem? Because our ecosystem is why we live here. It’s also the golden goose of our economy. Trash our ecosystem, and our economy goes with it. Three specific actions our community should take to protect and preserve our ecosystem include:
1. Address our water issues now, when the costs to do so are still pennies on the dollar, rather than when the EPA steps in and those costs skyrocket. Teton County sits on a sole source aquifer. All our water comes from the same place: the Snake River Aquifer. If that aquifer is contaminated, we’ll be legally required to fix the causes of that contamination. The costs will be exorbitant, and they will be borne by the residents of Teton County.
Greg Epstein: Teton County is made up of 97% federal land that is protected by federal law, so really, we are only talking about the remaining 3% of privately-owned land. Here are my priorities.
1)Improve our water quality through work with the Wyoming DEQ and a unified community Water Quality Plan. I would be open to the plans guidance which hopefully would include creating policy requiring any property within a certain distance from a municipal sewer or body of water to hook up. This will require new county-wide water and sewage infrastructure and potentially a new county sewage treatment plant depending on the current capacity of the Town of Jackson facility. Additionally, we may need to provide guidance or assist in drilling a couple of more wells in parts of the county that have been identified as having unsafe drinking water.
Wes Gardner: Failure to protect and preserve the health of our area’s ecosystem has dire consequences, affecting our local environment, quality of life, and economy.
The water quality in our valley varies from place to place. Unfortunately, many of our current septic units are ineffective, given proximity to high water tables. I propose the immediate deployment of a small-scale, high-tech treatment plant for Hoback.
Development of Northern South Park represents the literal opportunity of a lifetime. My ideal vision for this Subarea includes mixed density housing along High School Road, swaths of conserved open space, park and ride lots and bus stops, assurance of affordable, workforce restrictions for the majority of the units.
Our START bus system must be reorganized so that it is more effective. Our route structure and schedules need adjusting to make trip times for bus rides competitive. I support the deployment of discounted, employer-funded passes to commuters.
Natalia D. Macker: Preserving and protecting our areas ecosystem means we consider our impacts in all of our decisions – not just the obvious ones that involve land use. It also requires we acknowledge and learn from the full history of what we are seeking to preserve, including the Indigenous people who originally stewarded this place, and that we recognize the critical role humans have to play in our ecosystem stewardship moving forward as we adapt to a changing world and changing planet. Three areas I am focused on:
- Complete a wastewater plan and establish water quality benchmarks, implement any action steps identified in that planning process and begin foundational work for those
- Codify goals and actions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions within government and in partnership with the community/private sector
- Advance intentional economic development planning beyond tourism that is in balance with ecosystem stewardship goals.
The climate crisis is arguably the biggest threat to our ecosystem and to our quality of life. What can our local government do to help mitigate its effects, and what would your top priorities be?
Christian Beckwith: Developing workforce housing that minimizes the need to commute must be a priority, as housing our workforce within our own community will minimize commuter times and thus reduce carbon emissions. Improving our traffic solutions via a combination of incentives and penalties is also important. Incentives include:
- Improving public transportation infrastructure, routes, and stops
- Subsidizing transit costs for employees and/or residents
- Creating dedicated public transport lanes
- Including pedestrian-oriented design elements, such as short pedestrian crossings, wide sidewalks and street trees, in neighborhood developments
- Developing bicycle-friendly facilities and environments, including secure bike storage areas and showers
- Providing traveler information tools, including intelligent transportation system improvements, mobile and social applications, and wayfinding tools, and other methods for promoting non-SOV modes
- Developing flex-time work schedules and travel plans with employers to reduce congestion at peak times
Penalties we could consider include:
- Congestion charging
- Time, distance and place (TDP) road pricing
Greg Epstein: Aside from what I mentioned above, I would like to see our community more fully commit to a destination management plan that messages the importance of our region’s ecosystem. Some ideas may include best sustainability practices including reduce, reuse and recycle for local businesses, business notoriety for outstanding community stewardship and targeted messaging to the “Eco-conscience” visitor.
Wes Gardner: Climate change represents existential threat, and we must act quickly and with resolve if we are to affect change.
First, I promise to work with START to create a more functional, efficient, and frequent bus service. A recent study revealed that over 80% of our emissions come from ground transportation, so we should focus on reducing our community’s vehicle miles traveled (VMTs).
Another path to reducing VMTs lies in the development of permanently affordable workforce housing close to Town. The possibility before us today to develop Northern South Park represents a crucial opportunity to deploy hundreds of affordable, deed-restricted units. We must insist on a comprehensive neighborhood plan before granting any upzone rights to the applicants. The potential to develop so many housing units for our workforce so close to Town will have a dramatic effect on our emissions.
Natalia D. Macker: We have the opportunity to lead by example in Teton County, and that starts by getting our own house in order. Teton County adopted a Sustainability Strategy in 2017. Some progress has been made to date, but more attention – and funding – is needed. The overarching goals organizationally are to move toward net carbon neutral fleets and facilities and net zero energy use capability in County facilities. Priorities include:
- Establish a system for evaluating and prioritizing facility projects based on triple bottom line and sustainability criteria.
- Develop a County-wide environmentally preferable purchasing policy that includes standardized language for vendor contractors and requirements.
- Establish sustainable building best practices.
- Establish a plan for diversion of construction and demolition (C&D) waste.
- Increasing on-site renewable energy generation capacity.
How would you address water quality issues such as unsafe drinking water and polluted creeks and streams throughout our valley?
Christian Beckwith: As noted above, this should be one of our main priorities. I would advocate for:
removing/decommissioning septic systems in sensitive/unsuitable areas and replacing them with or connecting them to a centralized sewer system. Develop source water assessments and source water protection plans for every one of the 114 public water systems serving Teton County. Prohibiting new septic systems in nitrate hot spots. Revising Teton County’s small wastewater facility regulations to include the most protective measures recommended by U.S. EPA.
Greg Epstein: See answers above.
Wes Gardner: I believe that water leaving Teton County should be as clean as water entering it.
Much of our water supply contains dangerous levels of nitrates, most of which come from improperly deployed septic systems. I support the creation of a small-scale, high-tech sewage treatment plant in Hoback to reduce that community’s reliance on ineffective septic systems.
I support the use of land development regulations to protect our critical water resources. Life in Wyoming does not require perfectly manicured lawns, and we should discourage homeowners from deploying chemicals on their yards.
Recently, critical levels of e. coli have emerged in our popular local creeks. A recent study in Fish Creek revealed that less than 2% of the e. coli in that waterway derived from human waste. I support efforts to educate cattle ranchers and pet owners in hopes of keeping fecal matter out of our waterways.
Natalia D. Macker: Clean, safe drinking water is a human right. We must address safe drinking water with the urgency it demands. We cannot take it for granted. I will continue to support moving forward with planning and implementation of drinking water solutions in the Hoback region. Advancing countywide wastewater planning is another key step so that water planning and considerations are more holistically incorporated into land use planning. We will need to rely on partnerships with organizations, businesses, landowners, and individuals to execute and implement these projects. I expect we will look towards a balance of incentivizing proactive behavior – like trout-friendly landscaping – and establishing new or enhanced regulations and penalties.