Friday, September 30, 2005

Things happen when people pull together and act

Uncommon community energy burst on Ketchum City Hall this week when people from inordinately disparate backgrounds, but with a unified interest, descended on the City Council and got action, not talk.

Go down the list—county commissioners, religious leaders, school superintendent, former mayors, police and fire chiefs, a banker, Hispanic activist—all dedicated to persuading Ketchum to act quickly on acquiring the Bavarian Village for affordable housing before it's scheduled auction next month by the Internal Revenue Service.

Especially heartening was the appearance of Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson, who has thrown in the city of Sun Valley's financial resources to help acquire the structures.

Now, having asked the federal government in effect to delay the auction, and then to deal directly with Ketchum in negotiating a sale, the city has taken the fastest, quickest route to acquiring the property.

Will the federal government show as much common sense and make the housing available in the public interest?

Now why would so many with such a variety of interests come together on the affordable housing issue?

Altruism to some extent. But also for very practical reasons that involve a functioning community.

Businesses and public institutions are gradually losing employees as well as running into resistance from potential new workers because of the lack of affordable housing.

Without sufficient numbers of people, and especially those with professional and technical skills, the community cannot deliver services residents and visitors expect.

As Ketchum Fire Chief Greg Schwab told the council, only about a fourth of his firefighters live in Ketchum. The consequence is apparent: In a major emergency that requires firefighters and paramedics in force, the more that are farther away the longer the emergency won't be fully staffed.

The growing Hispanic community, on which so many businesses depend, is losing numbers, too. Sergio Ruiz, a businessman as well as activist, said his circle of friends is shrinking as Hispanics seek work in other counties and other states.

The vulnerability of a community work force because of high housing prices is further fallout from Idaho's punitive tax code, which forcibly escalates property values because of nearby construction of more expensive dwellings.

The sort of coalition that showed up in behalf of acquiring Bavarian Village might well prove to be just as effective if it were to mobilize again and confront state legislators about the consequences to our area, as well as all development-boom areas, of a hemorrhaging of sufficient workers.

The city of Ketchum has a long and growing list of vital projects it must tackle, affordable housing being one of the most compelling.

Members of the council should remember how quickly talk turned into action for this week's Bavarian Village issue, and use it as a source of inspiration for acting just as decisively on future projects requiring council approval.

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