Summit County towns, CDOT struggling to staff up

Some services and projects on hold until additional employees can be hired

Park visitors relax in the sunshine at Frisco Bay Marina Park during summer 2019. The Frisco Bay Marina is one of the departments in Frisco that is struggling to staff up.
Photo by Todd Powell / Todd Powell Photography

Summit County has a severe labor shortage in part because of its lack of available and affordable housing. Business owners across the community are raising wages, offering hefty signing bonuses and perks as well as broadening the search for applicants, but these owners aren’t the only employers vying for candidates.

The county’s local governments are also struggling to staff up, causing many services and projects to be put on hold with staff members to juggle multiple responsibilities.

“Silverthorne has had similar struggles to many of the businesses and organizations throughout our community,” Silverthorne spokesperson Kim Jardim said. “We’re really not much different than anyone else in that respect. We’re not where we need to be in terms of staffing.”

Most notably, Jardim said during the summer season, the town usually hires eight to 10 seasonal workers within its parks department to assist with routine maintenance. Though the town increased its starting wage and advertised both sign-on and end-of-season bonuses, Jardim said it only hired one person this year, leaving many projects and services unfulfilled.

Jardim said the town has outsourced and contracted a local business to help with some of the work. In some instances, some staff members work on the weekends while other tasks such as routine maintenance are left unattended.

In addition to its parks department, Jardim said the Silverthorne Recreation Center is also understaffed by about 20%, and that the center is operating on reduced hours and is closed Sundays to give current employees a break. She said management-level employees are working the front desk to ensure a job gets done.

It’s not just seasonal and part-time positions either. Within the Silverthorne Police Department, Jardim said a community service officer position has been listed for a couple of months and that the department has only received one application.

Jardim said all of these struggles can largely be traced back to the lack of affordable and attainable housing within the county.

“It’s really indicative of the challenges here in our community for labor and the housing shortage,” she said. “The town and the county and all of our neighboring municipalities are hyper-focused on creating some solutions and finding some ways to get affordable housing into the hands of our community members.”

The town of Frisco is also struggling to beef up its workforce for both part-time and full-time positions.

“I think that we’re all feeling it. … Regardless if we are in government or if we are in the private sector, we are all feeling the labor shortage,” Diane McBride, assistant town manager and recreation director for Frisco, said. “We’re all in it together.”

McBride said Frisco increased its starting wage this year from around $13 to $15 per hour. In fact, McBride said the town is currently in the process of understanding its pay structure as a whole, and where there could be room for improvement.

“We’re in the middle of a compensation study,” McBride said. “It’s looking as a whole, at our whole entire organization, to see what are all the positions that we have, what are the pay of those positions, the responsibility of those positions and then to really see what else could we be doing.”

McBride said the town just launched this study a month ago and plans to have it wrapped up in the next few months.

McBride said it’s had difficulties staffing up its part-time workforce like Silverthorne, but that this year has also presented an interesting trend in that a few management-level employees — some of which have been with the town for many years — are choosing to retire.

McBride said the town uses industry groups and associations to advertise the open position, as well as traditional means like its website and social media.

In fact, according to spokesperson Bob Wilson, social media sites seem to be one of the most effective tools for attracting candidates to maintenance positions within the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Wilson said CDOT is struggling to staff up because the market currently favors employees. He said some of CDOT’s maintenance positions require candidates to have or earn a commercial drivers license, which is needed by other companies and industries, too.

“People that have (commercial drivers licenses) often have a lot of different options because it’s not just CDOT, but it’s other people who require drivers for their operations, be it a trucking firm … or school districts who need school bus drivers, there’s a lot of options out there,” Wilson said.

Wilson said there are about 57 maintenance positions that primarily work in Summit and surrounding counties and that 28 of them are currently vacant. Wilson said the organization recently hosted a job fair that could potentially hire six applicants. The department is also relying on social media, signage along the roads and word-of-mouth to fill these spots.

Similar to the towns, Wilson said the focus of the organization now is prioritizing projects to get the most important work done first. For example, in the winter, Wilson noted that Interstate 70 always takes precedence in getting plowed first, and that if the organization has a reduced staff, it might take them longer to plow other roads under their jurisdiction.

Luckily, Dill Human Resources Manager Jo-Anne Tyson said the town wasn’t experiencing too many difficulties staffing, which she attributes in part to a bump in pay for part-time workers. Tyson said this year Dillon increased its wage from $13.50 to a range of $15 to $18 depending on how much experience a candidate has. The town also started offering vacation and paid sick time to seasonal employees, too.

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