City of Aspen bullish on 2021

Five new positions will be added to the municipal government’s payroll

Coming off of 2020 better than expected, the city of Aspen is on solid financial footing and will add five full-time positions to its roster of about 320 employees.

The new staff will be added across the city manager’s office, community development, police and parks and open space beginning on July 1.

The positions are necessary to meet growing demands of the community, according to Alissa Farrell, the city’s administrative services director.

“These are critical positions to the organization,” she said.

In total, the new positions amount to just over $500,000 annually in additional budget expenditures.

Other budgetary requests that Aspen City Council approved in an ordinance on first reading this week includes pay raises for existing staff.

They were restored this past fall, amounting to $527,000, which is incorporated in the 2021 budget.

Also in the supplemental budget request is a one-time $100 “appreciation” payment for each employee who gets a COVID-19 vaccination.

The incentive is for all employees, both full time and seasonal staff who have worked with the city for the past 30 days. That expenditure is $70,000.

The expense, as part of municipal government’s wellness package, further limits the city’s exposure to greater health care costs in its partially self-insured health plan, according to Farrell.

The spring supplemental request contains funding largely for previously approved programs and capital projects funded in 2020, or in a few cases earlier than that, that were slated to be multi-year efforts or experienced delays due to COVID-19, according to Pete Strecker, the city’s finance director.

While economic conditions played out better than expected over the past year, the city’s belt tightening and pandemic relief efforts helped fund $2.1 million in new requests.

“In part because of the city’s actions in the face of such past difficulties, both in managing expenses while continuing to provide support to our local businesses, residents and childcare providers, the city is in a good position financially to pursue projects and programs that had been paused during the pandemic,” Strecker wrote in a memo to council. “This supplemental request reflects that reality and includes several adjustments to help keep Aspen a vibrant, safe and desirable place to live, work and play.”

The city’s 2021 budget increases bring expenditure appropriations from $168 million to $208.4 million.

The $40.4 million increase includes the $2.1 million in new requests, $32.4 million in operating and capital carry-forward requests, $2 million of technical adjustments, and $2.4 million in departmental savings. There is $2.8 million in revenue adjustments and transfers, according to Strecker.

A combination of factors, including stronger than projected revenues and restrained spending, meant that the 2020 ending fund balance is $59 million more than estimated, Strecker told council during its regular meeting on Tuesday.

All told, including all adjustments to revenue and spending included in the supplemental request, the net impact to the city’s fund balance is a $21.4 million increase over what was originally projected.

The original budget for 2021 was $160.7 million. The revised is $219.9 million, which is expected to be approved by council in a May 11 public hearing.

“The economic and social reality for the city more than a year after the onset of the pandemic is considerably different than when the 2021 budget was considered for adoption,” Strecker wrote. “While this past ski season was soft overall, the tail end of the season appears to have been strong, and elevated early booking for the pending summer months show promise going forward.

“This coupled by new COVID-19 cases again trending down, vaccinations proceeding apace, and airlines adding or evaluating new routes to Aspen from around the country have changed the recovery outlook to be more pronounced and rapid.”

Other additions to the budget reflect public benefit projects like $100,000 toward a new Maroon Creek Road Trail, a new starter building at the municipal golf course and utility upgrades, to name a few.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she agrees that city management and council’s caution regarding spending at the outset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 has allowed the government to move forward in a positive manner.

“I see all of these items as beneficial to the health of the organization and moving council goals that we’ve expressed at different times over the past two years forward, so I am very supportive,” she said. “This is a pretty happy meeting because we are going forward with a lot of things that we had hoped to fund before the pandemic happened and are able to restore some funding too, but I know it could’ve ended up very differently.”

The following is a list and description of new positions being added to the city of Aspen payroll:

Deputy chief building official: The volume of work in the city of Aspen’s building department requires additional management capacity in order to meet the demands of the development community and maintain a reasonable level of customer service. This is an ongoing request with a full year cost of $124,800. ($62,600 for six months in 2021).

Assistant to the City Manager: This person will perform professional level duties and responsibilities in support of the City Manager’s office. This is an ongoing request with a full year cost of $110,490. ($54,730 for six months in 2020)

Human services officer (Four-year grant term): Pitkin County was awarded a Harm Reduction Grant that the Aspen Police Department can participate in for the creation and funding of a human services officer. $59,059 is allocated within the grant to offset the $93,000 cost of the position.

This will allow full coverage seven days a week for the human service officer to work in partnership with Pitkin Area Co‐Responder Team program.

The grant term is four years. If the program is successful and grants funds are no longer available, a supplemental request for full position funding will be submitted. Annually, $93,000 is the ongoing request.

Administrative supervisor: The administrative functions of a police department are not always given the same level of attention as its core services, i.e. response to calls for service, criminal investigations, etc. In recent years these services have grown in both volume and complexity.

Two customer service officers are the first point of contact when visitors approach the front office area, and they have a myriad of other job responsibilities as well.

Currently, a community response supervisor oversees the two customer service officers, as well as five community response officers.

This results in a total of seven employees reporting to one supervisor, which is the highest span of control in the department.

The new position is an ongoing request with a full year cost of $89,350. ($44,920 for six months in 2021)

Parks and open space ranger: Use within parks, open space and trails has been increasing, resulting in concerns such as a rise of dog waste and trail etiquette issues.

Additional duties related to COVID, special event management, and the oversight of the bear program have augmented the scope of work for seasonal rangers.

A ranger will act as a year‐round presence in the field, and oversee the summer seasonal rangers. This is an ongoing request with a full year cost of $85,290. ($43,440 for six months in 2021)

Certification in Public Management (CPM): This request is to pilot a mid‐ and senior‐level leadership training program under the umbrella of the C.U. Denver public affairs department.

This program is an investment in existing and future management staff within the city, as well as other local municipal partners, to establish a broad understanding of leadership and subjects that directly tie into the governmental environment.

The program will be capped at 18 participants and is estimated to cost roughly $3,000 per student, as well as some additional funds for materials, travel possibilities, etc. A one-time request of $62,100.

Source: City of Aspen