For the week of August 12 thru August 18, 1998  

Contradiction has consequences

The city of Ketchum’s telephone survey released recently shows that the lack of affordable housing has finally hit the public’s radar screen as the number one priority that needs attention. However, the majority of those surveyed did not want to use public money for employee housing.

There’s the hitch.

If the city takes the public at its word, nothing will be done. The city, the hospital, the schools and resort businesses will have difficulty attracting and keeping good employees because of the high cost of living, which is primarily housing.

The only alternative for both the public and private sector will be to raise salaries and benefits significantly. As real estate prices grow at rates that are multiples of the rate of inflation, so will salaries have to grow. Increased salaries in the labor-intensive tourist businesses will mean higher local prices for both goods and services. Higher salaries for public employees will mean higher taxes.

Local businesses already are criticized regularly for high prices. High property taxes are said to be driving some people from their homes.

Just wait.

When $20 an hour becomes the going rate for local labor, the valley could see some shockingly high prices and the disappearance of anything resembling a real community.

High prices will drive many businesses out of business as customers seek basic services in areas with lower prices, rents and wages. Jobs will disappear, and with them, basic services. Once again, the valley could become a truly seasonal community, a summer and winter vacation destination only for the very, very wealthy or for people who don’t mind an hour and a half drive to buy a quart of milk. Ketchum and Sun Valley could go back to being ghost towns in slack seasons.

Before residents and businesses get what they say they want--in this case to refuse to spend tax money on affordable housing--they should understand the consequences of letting the free market take its course.


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