Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Councilwoman heads south

38-year resident reflects on four years of public service

Express Staff Writer

Longtime Ketchum resident and Ketchum Councilwoman Terry Tracy is heading south after 38 years or residency and four years of public service.

After living in Ketchum for 38 years, which have culminated with four years on the Ketchum City Council, Terry Tracy is heading south.

The one-term 67-year-old decided in July not to seek re-election, and out of that decision grew the resolution to move to Twin Falls after nearly four decades of local residency.

"I never thought that I would ever leave," Tracy said. "I never dreamed of leaving. But once I made the decision not to run again, not to seek re-election, I started thinking about affordability. I decided it was time to move on. I decided there are things I want to do that Ketchum isn't going to allow me to do anymore."

Tracy, former director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Ketchum, retired from that post in 2003. It's a job she had held since 1978. Shortly after going into retirement, she decided to run for public office in the city that had been her home for more than half her life.

The unmistakable irony to Tracy's departure is that she is part of a demographic the city has been fighting to preserve.

"People are moving out, and they're moving south," she said. "They're moving to Hailey. Eventually the same thing is going to happen to Hailey that's happened to Ketchum as far as housing. It's already started."

The lack of affordable housing and the vanishing middle class in Ketchum are trends that may not be reversible, she said.

"There's one problem and a lot of different solutions. But I don't see how you get the middle class back. I see building affordable housing for the work force. As far as bringing back the middle class ... the group that came with me in the late 1960s and early 1970s, economically I don't see it as being feasible.

"When I came in 1969 I was in the Sun Valley Lodge basement. That was my first housing. I worked for the Sun Valley Co. I stayed in the Lodge basement along with every other college graduate who had come for the winter."

After that first season she moved downtown where "rentals were a dime a dozen."

"I rented from the same person for 20-some-odd years. And then decided it was time that maybe I invest in my community. And so I was still able to buy a condominium, and at that time, 13 years ago, I was still able to buy a nice condominium. And I don't know if that would be possible now."

Tracy, like other local Baby Boomers, has sold her local condominium after riding a wave of significant property value increases. She said she's not sure if it's possible for local workers to buy in to Ketchum the way she and others who arrived 10, 20 or 30 years ago did. And that is something the city will have to continue to grapple with, and perhaps embrace.

"I do see Ketchum more and more as a place for second homeowners and commuters," she said.

That said, Tracy said she is sure it is time for her to step aside.

"Every decision I've made I knew was the right one for me at the time," she said. "I think probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make was not running for the City Council again. I went back and forth on that it seems like forever. But once I made that decision I knew it was time to move on."

Moving to Twin Falls will be a switch, but it's not something Tracy necessarily laments.

"I've lived more than half my life there," she said. "There are definitely things I'm going to miss, but I'm not that far away. It's not like I'll never get back there. This is going to make things I want to do affordable. It's going to make traveling affordable. It's going to make all the interests I have outside of Ketchum affordable."

She said she vacillated on whether or not to run for re-election for about a year. For one, there are projects she believes she hasn't completed, but she also said she represents a certain constituency that hadn't been represented before.

"I've always said that if you came before the council with your lawyer, your architect, your family and your goldfish, the City Council had all the time in the world for you. But it didn't represent the average person."

She said she initially ran because she believed she could represent that group she perceives as disenfranchised. But she also said she believed the city's budget was out of control.

"I still feel the budget's out of control," she said. "But I'm not sure my staying on the council would have helped along those lines."

She said her four years serving the city were "very positive and rewarding."

"And that is due in large part to the residents of Ketchum," she said. "I felt I had people I could represent, and that made the decision difficult."

She said her four years with the city were very productive, although her term began as "quite a roller coaster."

"The reputation for Ketchum and the Ketchum City Council was that it was dysfunctional, and that the city was very dysfunctional. But I think we've overcome that. We didn't always agree, but we worked well together, I thought. There was a lot of respect and a lot of give and take."

She said projects like creating a more pedestrian-friendly Fourth Street Heritage Corridor, as well as other infrastructure-related undertakings, have got the city on the right track.

"Many of the streets were deteriorating," she said. "This was a good start in terms of sidewalks and lighting, and I just hope it expands beyond Fourth. It's going to make the town more pedestrian friendly. The Downtown Master Plan, I'm really happy we were able to complete that."

Implementation of impact fees was also a major accomplishment, she said. Ketchum was the first Idaho city to implement impact fees in all areas allowed under Idaho Code.

"That, in my way of thinking, was one of the best things we've done. It was a long time coming, but we finally got it done."

New organizations like the Ketchum Community Development Corporation and Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency, both implemented in the preceding two years, are also major accomplishments that Tracy said will bring a new level of expertise to the city's functioning.

"I see what's happening," she said. "I see what the challenges are. And I think a new skill level is definitely going to be a requirement in the very near future. In fact, now."

She said one of the city's recent pursuits, courting a hotel developer, is not the panacea many perceive.

"People are looking at hotels like this is the solution to our problem. Well, once you get the hotels built, then are you going to get people here?"

Though she has a new home, Tracy said she is not without longtime friends. Many people she's known for years in Ketchum have also moved to Twin Falls.

"It's kind of fun," she said. "I don't feel like I'm a total stranger."

And so opens the next chapter of a story that wove through four decades in the Wood River Valley.

"It was a great ride," Tracy said. "I wouldn't change a thing."

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