The city of Ketchum tried to stare down
the cost of housing in the Wood River Valley—and blinked.
After its long-time city administrator,
police chief, fire chief and planner retired, the city recruited people to fill
the vacancies. The city had turned down one opportunity after another to create
housing affordable for people with jobs. Yet, it found that the high cost of
housing in the valley was an obstacle to hiring.
This was no surprise to local businesses
that have been telling the city about the problem for years—to no avail.
The surprise was that the city did what
the majority of local businesses cannot do. It decided to pay more.
The city didn’t tell applicants to commute
from homes in Twin Falls or Shoshone. It didn’t tell them they might never own a
In a valley in which the median household
income is around $50,500—often produced by two income earners—the city is paying
an average of $86,666 a year to the administrator, police chief and planner, a
23 percent jump over its previous average.
The old salaries were probably too low,
but the increase is a whopper in an economy that is iffy at best.
The city justifies the new salaries as
comparable to those in Colorado resort towns. But Ketchum is not a Colorado
In 1997, the last time a national economic
survey was undertaken, Pitkin County, Colo. (Aspen) reported an annual payroll
75 percent larger than Blaine County’s.
Ketchum solved its own employee housing
problem by pushing the cost off on taxpayers—including businesses that cannot
push the same costs onto their customers.