Opinion | Paul Olson: Maintaining a healthy local economy | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Paul Olson: Maintaining a healthy local economy

Paul Olson
A Friendly Conservative

“It’s the economy, stupid,” was said by James Carville, Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign strategist, to help the campaign staff focus on an issue of importance to most voters and a key to winning the election. Every elected official should take a lesson from this. Both progressives and conservatives want the local and national economies to thrive, allowing people to earn a decent living and to provide for themselves and their loved ones.

A fine mix of candidates is running for various town councils in Summit County in the April 5 election. There are many important issues on the minds of voters, but if a candidate does not place their primary focus on maintaining a strong local economy, they will not be hosting a victory party on election night. Most candidates have acknowledged the urgent need to address the lack of child care and affordable housing that are contributing to a serious worker shortage.

The Breckenridge Town Council recently committed to spend $50 million over the next five years to greatly increase the number of long-term, affordable housing units within the town. About half of this money is coming from an existing 0.6% sales tax specifically to be used for housing that was extended in last November’s election. The other half comes from a $400 fee on each short-term rental bedroom in Breckenridge. The more controversial part of this housing plan is a cap that was placed on the number of short-term rental units, done in an effort to keep additional long-term rental units (normally used by workers) from being converted into short-term rentals.

I am not a fan of government over-regulating private property, but the free market is not going solve the affordable housing deficit in Summit County, at least not on a time frame that will avoid significant damage to our tourism industry. The Breckenridge Town Council recognizes this and has established the short-term rental cap as part of a well-crafted housing strategy.

For years, the Breckenridge government has done a good job of supporting affordable housing so middle-class workers can live in the community. This latest housing proposal is another example of how the council takes care of job No. 1: ensuring that we have a strong local economy. They have done their homework, researched what other ski communities have done, sought broad input from local business operators and residents, and monitored the conversion of long-term to short-term rentals. What also earns my approval is that this housing plan was designed by fellow residents who understand the needs of the community and must live with their decisions.

Every Summit County resident is aware of the acute shortage of workers. Signs advertising higher and higher starting wages are everywhere. Businesses have been forced to reduce days and hours in March during high season! Customers are here ready to purchase, and we say, “Sorry, we’re closed.” Poor customer service due to our worker shortage will cause many of our visitors to say, “Enough of this,” and go elsewhere next year.

Most importantly, we must value our employees who are giving their time and energy to take care of our visitors. They need to be able to afford a place to stay without commuting from Leadville or Kremmling. The housing shortage is a critical issue, and I am glad to see the Breckenridge council treat it with urgency and insight.

It is not the job of a Town Council to please everyone or to cater to the loudest voices in the room. We elect them to make the tough decisions that will lead to the best outcome for the community as a whole. Voters in the upcoming election should be wary of one-issue candidates who may not be prepared to deal with the wide range of community problems council members must face.

Summit County has a tourism-based economy now, and this will still be the case in 10 years. In 2032, will our economy be robust or weak? If wise and substantial steps are taken now to address the affordable housing shortage, we will be able to deliver good customer service to our visitors, and they will keep coming back. This will provide for good jobs, successful businesses and the revenue needed to pay for the public services that provide our fine quality of life.

It’s the economy, my friend.

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