county new hires

Sarah Farizel, a motor vehicle specialist with the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office, works from her desk Tuesday afternoon. Next year, Pitkin County has proposed adding numerous employees to several departments as a result of COVID-19’s ongoing impacts. 

Like so many businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley and across the state and country, Pitkin County also needs “help” in the form of additional employees.

However, unlike many restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and other private establishments, Pitkin County’s need for help arises less from the national worker shortage and more from an increased workload due to the pandemic.

The more than 16 full-time-equivalent employees the county hopes to add to its already more than 350-person roster next year had Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper concerned Tuesday afternoon.

“Increasing 16.5 positions is a tough one for me to swallow,” Clapper said during Tuesday’s Pitkin Board of County Commissioners work session. “We’re saying that we think COVID impacts will continue indefinitely … I don’t want to send that message to my community.”

The county already bulked up its public health department with new employees during the early days of the pandemic and continued to do so as cases continued to rise last fall and winter. 

Although the vast majority of new positions being proposed in 2022 would be for departments other than public health, many would still take on tasks that have been exacerbated due to COVID-19’s impacts on the local economy.

“We’re kind of blaming this all on COVID and we’re growing in areas that we’re hoping will decrease like the real estate industry, construction permits,” Clapper said. 

At least four of the new full-time employees the county hopes to hire next year would report to its community development department. 

According to the BOCC’s packet of materials, the county’s community development department has requested the hiring of a deputy planning director and a deputy chief building official “to support succession planning and high work volumes.” 

Community development has also asked to bring on a short-term rental administrator and a short-term rental enforcement officer in anticipation of the county’s forthcoming short-term-rental program. 

Recently, the BOCC discussed potential rules and regulations for short-term rentals in Pitkin County after the industry has continued to boom, particularly in mountain communities.

Should the BOCC approve all 16.5 new positions for 2022, it would bring the county’s total number of full-time-equivalent employees to 368.

According to Pitkin County Budget Director Connie Baker, prior to the pandemic, Pitkin County rarely added many positions each budget cycle.

“It’s a lot more complicated this year than I think it has ever been before,” Baker said in an interview following Tuesday’s work session. “Usually, it’s just a handful of [new] positions at most that are recommended. So, this is a change.”

Many of the new positions would be paid for through the county’s general fund, which has seen a “historic” increase in tax collection as a result of increased tourism, construction and online shopping. 

According to BOCC correspondence, “COVID has strongly impacted almost every department of the county.”

“The pandemic’s going to end at some point, we all hope,” Commissioner Steve Child said. “I always think about … when the recession hit and the county had to lay off quite a few positions.”

Baker said the county was careful not to assume that higher sales tax revenue — similar to those lucrative amounts generated during periods of the pandemic — would be the new norm. Commissioners did not want the positions to have to be terminated in the event that sales tax collection took a turn for the worse.

Commissioner Greg Poschman was also concerned about whether the new employees would be able to find a place to live and if the county was making good on its pledge to cultivate more affordable housing.

“Wouldn’t it be great if every entity, whether it’s a restaurant in town or the ski company or the county or anyone else, attached a housing discussion to virtually every new hire?” Poschman said. “Where are they going to live? Who is going to house these people?”

The BOCC will pick up its budget discussions next week as departments continue to present to the commission individually.

Matthew Bennett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at: matthew@aspendailynews.com