Eagle County, like other local employers, struggles to find workers
Community development leadership has seen a particularly high turnover
Employers throughout the valley are experiencing a well-documented worker shortage and Eagle County government is no exception.
According to Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll, part of the county’s hiring challenge is reflective of the valley as a whole and part of it reflects new funding for COVID-19 related positions.
Shroll noted the county recently received a $3 million grant for COVID-19-related work, including contact tracing.
“A lot of (the county’s increased number of job openings) is new positions and new employees,” he said. “But our announcements do stay open longer than they used to.”
“It is hard to find people who are qualified in the various places we are looking to hire,” Shroll added. He pointed to openings for sheriff’s office deputies, vehicle fleet workers and ECO Transit bus drivers as examples.
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“We have lost employees to other entities and we are all cannibalizing each other,” Shroll said. “There is a lot of that going on. I think a lot of it is tied to what we are facing with the local housing shortage.”
One county department that has been particularly hard hit with leadership openings and turnover is community development — the department tasked with planning and review for development proposals. There have been three community development directors for the department in the past three years and the position is currently open. The county is also looking for a planning manager to oversee other department planners.
“I don’t think that is as controversial as people seem to want to make it out to be,” Shroll said. He noted the last community development director — Morgan Beryl — and her husband moved to Waynesville, North Carolina, where she is now the executive director of the Haywood County Arts Council. The county’s previous planning manager, Morgan Landers, moved to Ketchum, Idaho, where she is the city’s senior planner.
Shroll believes the county’s community development turnover is indicative of the planning profession as a whole.
“The days of Keith Montag (former longtime county planner and later county manager) doing that job for decades, those are going to be tough to find,” Shroll said. “It’s just a very tough position to fill right now.”
Shroll noted the average time for a town manager to remain in a position is 4½ years. “I think the planning profession, at the highest levels, sees a similar time span,” he said.
Serving as the county’s community development director is a high-profile and high-stress job, Shroll acknowledged.
“The tenor of community comments is getting meaner,” he said. “The attacks are becoming more personal. I think there is a lack of understanding that the county doesn’t present the applications, but by law, we have to apply the standards and respond to a project.”
“It has turned into a mantra of ‘I can’t believe you, as a staff person, would even consider this project,’” Shroll added. “But we have to. We are following the law and our statutory responsibilities.”
Planning controversy isn’t new, but it used to be prevalent only for bigger projects, Shroll said.
“We need to find a way to disagree with one another and still show respect,” he said. “Sometimes the comments now are downright nasty and hurtful.”
While the county searches for a new community development director and planning manager, it is outsourcing plan review to Community Planning Strategies — a Silverthorne firm. Shroll noted it was important to go outside of the county for this work because local planners are more likely to represent the applicants for the plans under review by Eagle County.
According to Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman, the county’s contract with Community Planning Strategies is approved to extend until Dec. 31 with a not-to-exceed dollar amount of $99,000. She said the county paid the firm approximately $1,500 in June and approximately $7,500 in July.
As the county continues its community development leadership searches, Shroll said the salary ranges for the two jobs seems to be in line. The community development director salary range is $101,399 to $131,821. The planning manager salary range is $73,441 to $95,487.
“We feel we are keeping up with other jurisdictions,” he said. “But if you bring in someone from the outside, they take a look at the home sale listings and our housing costs, if you are from a non-resort community, are shocking.”
Last week, the county commissioners approved a $5.4 million expenditure to expand housing options in the valley. Programs to address the county’s own hiring and housing needs are specifically called out in that plan.
“We need to get more aggressive in addressing housing issues. We are all in the same boat — both public and private employers,” Shroll concluded.