affordable housing

Affordable rental apartments at 488 Castle Creek Road, pictured in December.

The Aspen City Council during a Tuesday work session heard from staff and consulting firm Segal regarding its initial findings toward the development of a total compensation philosophy for the city.

City Manager Sara Ott noted the importance of the timing of the conversation, underscoring the need to be engaging in what she called “stay interviews” with staff rather than exit interviews.

“Post-COVID turnover happening … we’re going to get hit by that, potentially,” she said. 

That’s exactly the intention behind developing a total compensation philosophy — creating a cohesive policy that creates more transparency in decision making toward staff compensation, she and Alissa Farrell, administrative services director for the city, emphasized.

To that end, Segal and the city of Aspen have each spearheaded surveys, gathering information on what strengths and challenges exist in the current landscape, from both employers’ perspectives regarding recruiting top-tier talent and employees’ perspectives regarding what factors make them want to stay or leave.

Having a flexible work schedule and lifestyle perks that come with living in the Roaring Fork Valley, as well as highly regarded relationships with colleagues, rounded out some of the biggest reasons employees reported satisfaction in their employment, Segal Vice President Patrick Bracken said during Tuesday’s work session.

“There are some challenges that came up as well. The first was — and it did vary by department, but as a general theme — there’s a limited pool of qualified candidates,” he said.

That makes recruitment particularly challenging, as many would-be hires have to relocate to the area, which has a notoriously high financial barrier of entry. 

Councilmember Skippy Mesirow spoke passionately on the subject, calling housing the “elephant in the room” more than once when outlining his vision for a big-picture compensation philosophy. 

“I don’t know that even with the best compensation strategy in the world — the opportunity to work on really interesting things with great compensation — that we can get people,” he said.

Councilmember Ward Hauenstein appreciated Mesirow’s passion, calling him a “hard act to follow,” but maintained a commitment to what he deemed doable goals.

“Housing certainly is a challenge — perhaps the biggest challenge — I don’t think there’s a lot we can do in the short term. I think as a council we’re doing a lot to address that, but we have to realize we’re not going to be able to wave a magic wand and create a utopia where affordable housing is an included aspect of our environment for attracting and retaining people,” he said.

In 2020, council approved a supplemental request designated for the 2021 budget in the amount of $85,000 for a compensation and classification study, the first one to be conducted since 2014. The additional funds required to meet the $90,000 survey cost are covered through the human resources department budget, according to an April memo. 

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.