THE BUZZ: The Faces of Blair

By on August 4, 2015

If residents of Blair Place Apartments are forced from the valley, just who do we stand to lose?

This is part three in a weekly series spotlighting vital community members who are reevaluating their place in Jackson after Blair Place Apartments announced a more than 40 percent rent increase.

Sgt. Matt Carr is one of only two patrol deputies that calls Teton County home.

Sgt. Matt Carr is one of only two patrol deputies that calls Teton County home.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – At the heart of any community are its institutions—schools and libraries that nourish the intellect, hospitals that heal and police departments that protect. What determines a truly effective institution that serves its community well, however, is having good people in its trenches. But how does a town’s complexion shift when folks such as police officers can no longer manage to live in the same community they serve?

Only two out of the 16 uniformed patrol officers in the Teton County Sheriff’s Department actually live in Teton County, and one happens to reside at Blair Place Apartments. When his rent increases, Sgt. Matt Carr says he may be priced out of the community he has invested in for 22 years.

“When I face that 40 percent increase, I don’t know what I will do,” said Carr, who also is a veteran ski patroller for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and juggles jobs at Grand Teton National Park, the Four Seasons and as a property manager.

Carr’s predicament not only illuminates how the housing crisis is wiping out emergency responders in Teton County, but it also calls into question what Carr believes is a lack of foresight at the hands of Teton County officials. “I don’t blame Blair; they are a private enterprise,” Carr said. “I blame Teton County commissioners.” Carr says commissioners have failed to create enough viable affordable housing for the community while overlooking recommendations from two compensation reports to provide housing stipends to emergency responders who are struggling to plant roots in Teton County.

As of press time, commissioners had not returned a phone call or email for comment.

“For my colleagues who don’t live where they work, the county is saying, ‘We want you to work here, but we don’t want your kids to go to school here or recreate here or be a part of the community here,’” Carr said. “My colleagues don’t have the sense of community enjoyed by people who live here.”

Carr says the problem has stretched beyond seasoned officers, too. With two deputies-in-training and two patrol positions unfilled, the sheriff’s department has spearheaded aggressive recruitment efforts, including a polished video on its website featuring Sheriff Jim Whalen espousing the ethos of Jackson Hole and its vibrant community. “But it takes a good two years to reach a certain level of proficiency, and when [deputies] hit that two-year mark, they are packing up and leaving because they have the realization that they will never live here and their kids will never go to school here,” Carr said.

Whalen, who strongly supports housing community workers within the confines of Teton County, said the department has no issue enticing candidates of interest. “What we’re trying to do is make Jackson an attractive place for people to work and live, but once they realize they can’t find a way to live here or that they’ll be facing a long commute, they withdraw their names from the pool of applicants,” he lamented.

As for the folks who stay with the department and commute from neighboring communities such as Alpine, Victor or Driggs, Whalen says there is a disconnect: “When you become a part of the community as a deputy sheriff or police officer, you have a higher stake, but when you just come here to do your job and then leave, there is no emotional attachment.”

Chuck Marohn is a renowned urban planner who, through his nonprofit Strong Towns, educates civic leaders and citizens across the nation about the elements that comprise resilient towns and cities. A keynote speaker at the 2014 Jackson Hole Shift Festival, Marohn said what is happening in Jackson Hole —with residents such as emergency responders being priced out—will decidedly transform the place that valley residents call home.

“From a housing standpoint, Jackson Hole is well on its way to being like Vail, Colorado,” he warned. “You wipe out that class of artists and sole proprietors—what I would call ‘the dreamers,’ the people who end up here because they fall in love with the place and want to make it work. You wipe out that class and you wind up with a place like Vail, where only high-end businesses and national franchises can afford to be there.”

As one of the people who has helped to color and protect the community’s now seemingly endangered character, Carr worries about another potential ramification of his colleagues’ long distance addresses.

“As law enforcement, we all fear something happening in our schools,” said Carr, who has been with the sheriff’s department since 1999, becoming a sergeant just a few months ago. “If we have an active shooter or a crisis that occurs in Victor or Driggs or Alpine, we’ve got you covered. But if it happens here, I’m not so sure. They’ll come, but it will be a while.”

Contact Robyn Vincent at [email protected]; 307-732-0299.

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine and former editor of Planet Jackson Hole. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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