A new report commissioned by Teton County, ID with support from Teton County, WY and the Alta Solid Waste District was released last week; the report concludes that revenue from future development at Grand Targhee Resort will not outweigh the cost of impacts on Teton County, ID’s roads, transfer station, housing market, and emergency services.
In October of 2021, the Teton Board of County Commissioners approved a $49,500 contract with ECONorthwest, a finance and planning consultant, to perform a socioeconomic analysis of Grand Targhee’s approved plans for private land development and pending plans for expansion on public land. Teton County, WY commissioners agreed to pay for half of the study, and the Alta Solid Waste District kicked in $4,000.
The analysis supplements a study provided by the consulting firm SE Group during the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s environmental impact statement process.
The EIS will weigh the possible impacts of proposed special permit area expansion and infrastructure upgrades on national forest land at Grand Targhee. Teton Basin District Ranger Jay Pence confirmed this week that the draft EIS is expected to be released in “late summer or early fall,” but said there was not yet a set date. The draft was initially scheduled to come out in January of 2021, but the release date has been pushed back multiple times.
The Teton County, ID commissioners were concerned that the SE Group’s analysis will focus only on the public land development and not on private land improvements which will bring more amenities and residential units to the base area. They asked ECONorthwest to focus on the spillover effects from resort expansion across the state line.
The resulting report, which came out on July 15, didn’t come with any major surprises, Pence said. “It’s consistent with much of what was in the [SE Group] document, and helps augment it.”
The report’s key findings were that increased traffic volume to the resort will necessitate more frequent maintenance and capital improvements on Idaho roads; resort expansion will worsen the existing affordable housing shortage; revenue from the resort will mainly flow to Wyoming; and reimbursements from Grand Targhee and TCWY for solid waste and emergency response, respectively, to TCID may not be sufficient to cover the actual cost of those services.
“It’s a critical big-picture analysis of the economic situation in our county,” TCID Commissioner Cindy Riegel said on Monday. “In some ways we’re doing well, but we can’t keep up with infrastructure and growth even without Grand Targhee expansion. And at least with growth within our county we receive impact fees and property taxes, but when it happens in Wyoming we get nothing.”
Resort owner and general manager Geordie Gillett said he took issue with the study and some of its findings, although he did appreciate the report’s granular breakdown of how different the tax policies of Idaho and Wyoming are. Even though Wyoming doesn’t have income tax, counties have a broader ability to collect revenue outside of property taxes; meanwhile, in Idaho, counties have a very limited ability to capture revenue from economic transactions, and county budgets can only increase by 3% per year plus new construction. The issue has come up repeatedly during county budget meetings as the BOCC wrestles with how to raise salaries, hire more employees, and address public infrastructure needs without bringing in more revenue.
Riegel described it as a constant battle with the state legislature. Recently, working with the Idaho Association of Commissioners and Clerks, she proposed a resolution allowing counties to collect lodging tax.
Gillett acknowledged the county’s challenges but said he thought the report “demonized” the resort. “This isn’t a new issue for Idaho and Wyoming. I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to put it all on us,” he said. “As someone involved in the economies of both counties, I would strongly encourage a conversation between the counties, based on numbers and science, that focuses on the two communities holistically. They need to establish a fair framework for how to slice and dice which entity is contributing what.”
Riegel agreed with the need to sit down with TCWY, but thought development at Grand Targhee was a big part of the equation.
“If the Forest Service approves the expansion and Teton County, WY continues to approve all of the steps that Grand Targhee has to go through to obtain development entitlements for the private land, then we’ll have to talk about how Wyoming can help manage the impact from growth, since we can’t do it alone,” she said.
The report proposes several solutions: larger payments to TCID for waste and emergency response; cost-sharing on road services between Idaho and Wyoming; and a phasing plan for resort development to spread out the impact on housing needs.
Gillett responded to each of those solutions. He said that Grand Targhee was willing to have a conversation with TCID about paying a larger fee in lieu for solid waste so that it was proportionate to what entities and taxpayers within the county pay. He said that TCWY is paying the local fire department “what they asked for.” Last summer TCWY increased its payment to TCID for fire and rescue services from $200,000 per year to $480,000, with scheduled increases each year.
As for housing, Gillett pointed out that Grand Targhee has a phasing plan in its master plan approved by TCWY, and is required to offset its impact by providing employee and affordable housing. Last year the resort built 16 employee housing units on Johnson Avenue in Driggs, with 96 bedrooms total.
“We have housing mitigation that is by the book for Teton County, WY,” he said. “I feel that we’ve done more to address housing than any other business in the community and that we have a clear path forward to continue addressing it.”
Riegel, who has said she is committed to addressing the housing crisis with all the tools available to elected officials, was more interested the report’s broader takeaways about housing, and said that the issue requires community partnerships and substantial sources of funding.
“Part of the shortage in primary housing is due to secondary housing—short term rentals and second homes are reducing the inventory of houses available to the workforce,” she said, referencing a statistic from the report that there were nearly 1,700 vacant (in this case secondary or vacation rental) houses in the county in 2020. “This is coming from economists who have looked at the community from different economic angles. A lot of us knew this intuitively but now we have the data to back it up.”
The report is available to view at tetoncountyidaho.gov.