Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley - On Workforce Housing

I understand workforce housing to be housing that is affordable for the majority of our Branson workers – perhaps affordable really is a more descriptive term than workforce. The data I have comes pre mortgage meltdown, but it takes an income of slightly more than $30,000 to purchase a $100,000 home. I’ve seen 2005 data that shows the average salary anywhere from $23,500 to $24,500 in Taney County. Now, if we assume 2 wage earning folks who have a year round salary that $100,000 might not be so hard to reach, but assume a one parent household, child care costs, no mass transit not to mention just trying to find a home priced at $100,000 in the Branson's market. Much more difficult.

In 2003, only 11.6% of Branson workers actually lived in Branson. 51% commute from unincorporated areas. Only 51% live in Taney County. 17% commute from Stone, 5.6% from Christian, 5.5 from Greene. Now that is pre Branson Landing and the large number of job openings. Doesn’t take much to be concerned about the effect of gas prices on our workforce traveling into Branson.

Talking to all of the affordable housing unit managers – they continue to have long wait lists. Which is part of the switch of underutilized motels to weekly rentals. The Point in Time count identified several, more than I had wished for, motels that are now full time housing for some citizens. A very small room without proper cooking facilities can’t be good for families. Looking at what other communities have tried with these types of problems – success seems mixed. Most form task forces with high hopes and long lists of priorities, but the problems are very complex. A limited amount of housing at a reasonable price, poor credit, lack of ability to secure downpayments for movement into a permanent home are just a few of the issues.

I see that some towns have been partners with developers on housing units – from donating land to keep costs down, to securing grants, etc. for renovation of failing structures. I continue to talk with developers, but even those whose main business is affordable housing find the market too difficult. High land costs, high infrastructure costs. While we’re a long ways from any discussion of new taxes, I believe we could talk about denser projects, waiving of fees associated with construction, perhaps even waiving property taxes that the City might collect on a project.

Personally I voted for the increase in the minimum wage. None of the employees at Presleys’ make minimum wage – our lowest hourly wage is $7.50. We offer health insurance to full time, year round employees (our theatre pays 90% of the employee cost). Still, our seasonal workers receive no benefits. Our business is a little different, most of our ushers, concession, etc. are students or retired, just looking for a few extra dollars to bring home each week.

I believe the issue of higher wages is a personal business decision. You and I can both name businesses that close on a daily basis, and we know our visitors are the ultimate bargain hunters. Combine that with a possible recession and increased costs of doing business – fuel, utilities, insurance – I can’t name a single item that our theatre purchases that has gone down or even remained stable over the last years. So, yes, if the market gets tight enough wages will rise, but I am no economist and wouldn’t pretend to know the true impact of this topic. I’m most concerned that we still have too small a pool to draw employees from. If our wages must rise to entice more workers from Springfield, Republic, Bolivar, and then add in the cost of fuel and wear and tear on a vehicle that can’t be a good thing. Not to mention the drain on families with long commutes keeping Mom’s and Dad’s away from home.

Wouldn’t it be better if employees could live closer, in a safe clean environment, at the price that meets a threshold they can afford and still buy health insurance, etc.?