‘Building trust and positivity’: Jackson mayor lays out roadmap for 2023

Hailey Morton Levinson highlights the town’s efforts to add housing, improve child care access and promote inclusion.
Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson delivers her third State of the Town address. (Tyler Pratt/KHOL)

Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson said the town has made progress over the past year, but that more work needs to be done, particularly when it comes to childcare, housing and engaging the Spanish-speaking community. 

She delivered her third annual State of the Town speech Monday to a small group of mostly staff at the Town Council Chambers. After two years online, this was her first in-person address. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion

In what Morton Levinson called a “first for our town and our state,” she said the town council recently heard recommendations from the newly formed Equity Task force. That included everything from “ramping up Spanish translation, to directing staff to work more directly on senior housing and assisted living,” Morton Levinson said. 

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The council approved the recommendations in December. However, Morton Levinson said some efforts may take longer to implement than others. 

Morton Levinson said last year the police department also sent officers to a Spanish immersion class to sharpen their skills.

“Officers returned with improved language skills that they were quickly able to apply here in Jackson,” Morton Levinson said. 

She also said the police department also added a social worker to help respond to calls when mental health is a concern. 

Childcare access and water quality

Morton Levinson said she has prioritized work on early childhood education and that Jackson is in the process of converting some of its office space into a child care facility.

“I can confidently say the town will be providing childcare and expanding potential daycare slots in our community this year,” she said. 

Morton Levinson also highlighted efforts to improve water quality and storm water management, saying that while consultants found the town “does an excellent job,” she expects upgrades will be made on how the town manages water.

She also said funding from the 2022g Specific Purpose Excise Tax (SPET) election will fund 15 new projects over the next several years to address issues related to water, as well as transportation and housing. 

Housing 

Morton Levinson also promoted climate action initiatives the town has taken over the past year and efforts to boost transportation options like the recent START On Demand buses. But, she said housing remains a central concern.

“Housing continues to be top of mind in our community this year,” Morton Levinson said.

She cited dozens of new units built over the past year and a new Jackson/Teton County Housing Preservation Program to assist with down payments for community members and the area’s workforce. 

Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson delivered her third annual State of the Town speech to a small group of mostly staff at the Town Council Chambers. (Tyler Pratt/KHOL)

“Housing developments will be started on Simon Lane, Hansen Avenue and Snow King Avenue,” Morton Levinson said. “Flat Creek Apartments on Snow King will provide 48 affordable rental units. When complete, the apartments will be more affordable than any housing development in our town.” 

Speaking with Morton Levinson after the address, Jackson resident Nancy Donovan said she is worried about who is using affordable housing. She said the town needs an expanded “compliance” task force.

“Where people who work and contribute to the town actually have the units and not people who work remotely or happen to have a family who owns houses here,” Donovan explained in a follow-up discussion with KHOL. “We have to be careful how we protect affordable housing and make sure it goes to the police, firemen and the people who make this town operate on a daily basis.”

Donovan said she and her husband had been in Jackson full-time for 10 years, but this was the first state of the address she has attended.

“We’re very concerned about how the town operates and what they haven’t been able to accomplish,” Donovan said. 

Speaking with KHOL afterwards, Morton Levinson said she appreciated the passion from residents like Donovan.

“I’m grateful for that in our community,” Morton Levinson said. “Because there are a lot of communities where people do their day-to-day and snooze through things and that is not Jackson.” 

She addressed Donovan’s concern about housing saying Jackson and Teton County have a full-time employee devoted to looking at compliance issues in affordable housing. 

‘Community is what’s important’

During her address, Morton Levinson promoted many other steps and initiatives made in 2022 and praised the hard work of community members, including a special shout out to the area’s snow plow crews, who are facing a staffing shortage during a year of heavy snowfall. 

Morton Levinson said she keeps a lot of voices in mind in her leadership role. 

“While I’ve seen the physical landscape of our town change and grow, community is what’s important,” Morton Levinson said. “We are a town of neighbors and friends, strangers and visitors — each with a special place for Jackson in our hearts. It is the day-to-day interactions of each of us that make this place special.” 

The 2023 State of the Town address is also available online here.

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About Tyler Pratt

Tyler has over a decade of experience as a jack-of-all-trades at public radio newsrooms across the U.S. He's a Columbia Journalism School alum with a passion for reporting on criminal justice, social justice, and LGBTQ+ issues. He loves New Orleans Saints football, dance floors, tasting new wines and trying out taco spots. Follow Tyler on Twitter @prattattak

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