During the last month, I've heard the various governmental bodies of Mason County (county, city, school) discussing budget plans. Inevitably during those discussions, when discussing salaries, someone will always drag out a line that is starting to wear very thin: "Salaries here don't have to be as high since our cost of living is lower than in the city."
When I hear someone use this line, I know that they probably haven't been shopping lately. They probably haven't tried to rent a place to live. And, they haven't filled up their own gas tank.
When I was a kid growing up in Mason during the 1970s, the cost differential of rural and urban living had already started to disappear. It was still a great deal less expensive to live in Mason; but, it was starting to get more costly all the time.
You see, Mason people eat the same foods, wear the same clothes, drive the same cars, fill up with the same gasoline, and use the same building supplies as everyone else. Though a few folks are still relatively self sufficient as far a having a garden or butchering a calf, almost everything any of use consumes comes from the same sources that supply a resident of Dallas.
For years, we wanted,,, no, demanded, that we have access to the same quality of power, of communication, of education, of transportation as folks who lived in the cities. We knew that to stay competitive and to stay productive, we would have to have these things. To not seek them out and obtain them would mean standing still while the world passed us by. And, as Mason folks always do, we succeeded.
We now have highways connecting us to all points. We also have $4.00+ gasoline. We have high speed internet connections. And we have emails offering us Nigerian cash schemes and cheap Viagra. We have arugula and virgin olive oil available on local shelves. We also have salmonella scares and the daily risk of food recalls. We have modern homes with every electrical convenience. And we have rising electric bills and worsening air quality due to our ravenous need for more power.
So now, when someone moves to Mason from an urban area, they may still have a bit of culture shock when they have to readjust their pace of living, the quality of life is easily comparable to what they thought they were leaving behind. The cost of living is also very similar to what they moved to escape.
Oh, folks might be able to sell a home in Houston and buy a mega-home in Mason; but, once they're in that home, the costs will be eerily similar. It's going to cost about the same to air condition. It will run the same to furnish the house, put food on the table, and drive back and forth to the doctor. Taxes will be lower; but, even that is changing.
Which brings us back to salaries. For years we patted ourselves on the back for holding down our salaries, convincing ourselves that folks here didn't need to be paid as much as those in the urban areas. We were very proud of the way we kept our wages from rising too high, even as the costs all around us were soaring. And now, we're playing catch up.
You can train as a deputy here, then move to Austin and make a living. You can get your EMT certification here, then move to Fredericksburg and support your family. You can work the counter at a restaurant here, then move to Killeen and be able to afford your rent doing the same thing.
We've achieved equality in many things; but, pay scale has never been one of them. And now, with tightening economic conditions, the push to raise those salaries is becoming unstoppable. Employee pay will continue to rise, and soon we will find that it compares favorably to our urban cousins.
Of course, we've still got to find a way to pay those salaries. So that means that taxes will rise. The costs of goods and services will have to increase to cover producer costs. And when the cost of living rises, the salaries will have to be adjusted to keep pace.
And then, except for the traffic congestion and crime, we will be just like our brethren in the cities.
It’s all just my opinion, but it’s what I wish would happen.