Pitkin County environmental office short-staffed
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” The door at the Pitkin County Environmental Health and Natural Resources office often is locked these days, with a sign warning citizens that a lack of staff means there’s no one immediately available.
But that doesn’t mean the department has shut down.
“They’re out in the field, doing inspections,” said Rose Anne Sullivan, director of the office, about the two environmental health specialists under her.
The specialists do everything from inspecting restaurants and ensuring that health regulations are followed to processing applications for septic systems and then monitoring the functioning of those systems, among other duties.
The office’s administrative assistant left recently, and it was that person’s job to meet with the public and set up appointments with the environmental health specialists, Sullivan said. Another recent departure, she said, was the department’s natural resources specialist.
Plus, she said, longtime department staffer Nancy MacKenzie retired in September, and office supervisor Carla Ostberg went on maternity leave and only recently returned to work on a part-time basis.
With the recent hiring of specialist Bryan Daugherty, whose initial job will be to conduct food-service inspections, what was a five-person office about a year ago is a three-person office now, Sullivan said.
“We are a little short-staffed,” she conceded on Friday, adding that the staffing situation is “permanent for the foreseeable future.”
“There definitely is no plan to have a natural resources specialist again,” she said.
That’s because the duties formerly assigned to that position, having to do with interaction with federal land management agencies and water rights, are now being handled by either the county attorney’s office or the county engineer. The position of administrative assistant, Sullivan said, remains in limbo for now.
The county’s planning director, Cindy Houben, has overseen the Environmental Health and Natural Resources Department since it was folded into the Community Development Department in 2007.
Houben said she and others in the county administration are examining the department’s staffing needs and other issues, including the county’s budgetary options, to determine what steps to take to ensure the department can do its job effectively, as well as serve the public’s needs for permit information and other contacts.
According to Houben, among the options under consideration is whether to create a place in Aspen City Hall, where the Community Development Department is, for periodic office hours for environmental health issues.
The idea, she said, is to give the public a more convenient location to visit than the office’s current home, in the Schultz Health and Human Services building adjacent to Aspen Valley Hospital on Castle Creek Road.
Both Houben and Sullivan stressed that the shortage of staff at environmental health has nothing to do with the economic downturn that is expected to cut into the county’s finances in the coming year.
“We’re just trying to be efficient,” said Houben. “We may see some savings [from holding the positions open for a time], but budgeting for these positions is still on the books.”