Part of the time when I was in college a few years ago, I was a painter. Besides learning a useful trade, I walked away from that job with words of wisdom from my painting partner.
He was a middle-aged guy with kids and had been painting for most of his life, earning no more than $12 an hour.
He said, "If you work a hard 40 hours a week, you deserve to own a house, no matter what it costs."
Since I moved to Steamboat Springs a year ago, I've thought about those words more than I ever have before. My painting buddy's theory seems to apply to most issues in our open market system.
Bottom line is, if you work 40 hours a week, you should be able to comfortably own a nice car, eat well and own property.
But since I've been in Steamboat Springs, I've realized that it is extremely difficult for people to achieve that.
In a tourist market that attracts wealthy people, the open market will adjust to accommodate a fatter pocketbook. That puts the pinch on the people who live here and, quite honestly, I don't see it stopping.
Case in point: When I was driving to work Tuesday, I saw that gas prices were up to $1.79. Though gas prices in the state overall are high, they are $.30 cheaper on the Front Range than here.
Now, you can't tell me that it costs $.30 more a gallon to drive the gasoline to Steamboat. I won't believe it.
Furthermore, unless you happen to be one of the few people who makes a decent wage in this town, the pay scale doesn't match the cost to live here, especially at low-end jobs.
The biggest company in this town, the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., pays lift operators somewhere in the $7 to $8 range. I watched my roommate lose 10 pounds because of it.
Though they are low-end jobs, those are the places where the youth in this town work. And young people are the future of Steamboat Springs. What's going to happen if the pull of nature that attracts most young people to this area is clouded by the urge to live in a place where they don't have to just scrape by. It will mean talented, but not wealthy, youth will move away to find something better.
Steamboat Springs can stay a place for the rich to play but shouldn't turn into a place where only the rich can live.
That's not going to happen with a change in government, a change in tax policy or a change in the market.
Residents in Steamboat Springs need to decide if they want their town to be another Aspen in 30 years. If not, it will take a collective change in thinking by the older generation in Steamboat to help pave the way for the youth.