The city of Ketchum’s willingness to entertain the idea of increasing the local-option sales tax and using the money to develop workforce housing could finally fill a void of innovative thinking about the issue that has existed for far too long.

Any new local sales taxes, however, should be earmarked solely for housing to prevent them from being diverted, diced or diminished by competing interests.

Ketchum is not the only city in Idaho plagued by a rapid rise in housing costs and a shortage of supply. Cities all over the state are complaining about the influx of new residents who have cashed out of housing in more expensive states and chosen to relocate to Idaho.

Ketchum is in good company with other resort cities, including Sun Valley, Hailey, McCall, Donnelly and Driggs, in watching affordable residential housing disappear, often into the short-term rental market.

Difficulty in affording local housing is not just confined to dishwashers. It extends to doctors as well.

Something has to give.

Historically, Idaho’s dominant legacy industries, including agriculture, wood products and mining, shaped its laws. The state rarely allowed tourism a seat at the lawmaking table and too often has hindered rather than helped it.

The Department of Commerce today lists tourism as the state’s third largest industry. It generates $3.41 billion annually. Resort towns are a big part of this sector and they need some help.

They need two things.

They need the state to ease its limitation on local control of short-term rentals. For resort communities, the state limitation amounts to a continuing war on affordable worker housing.

They also need the state to support the use of local-option sales taxes on lodging, meals, liquor by the drink, construction materials and lift tickets to build workforce housing. Such levies fall primarily on visitors.

The architects of the local-option sales tax, which the Legislature approved in 1978, intended the tax to be a tool for small resort cities to meet the many infrastructure demands of tourism.

Workforce housing now tops the list of needs, and the shortage is critical. Local businesses are limiting operations. Some are closing their doors. Public services are being forced to scale back.

The Ketchum City Council has authorized its staff to prepare a proposal for a local-option sales tax to be spent to create community housing. It would require 60% voter approval.

The City Council should gauge community support, move ahead with deliberate speed and find out if the idea will fly or die.


“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to editorialboard@mtexpress.com.

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