Pitkin County open space’s success drives request to boost staffing | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County open space’s success drives request to boost staffing

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – At a time when local governments are downsizing, freezing wages and leaving positions unfilled, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program has proposed expanding its staff next year.

Dale Will, the program’s director, laid out his argument for the addition of two full-time and two part-time positions in the 2010 budget last week, when he presented a draft of the program’s strategic plan to county commissioners.

“It’s unfortunate that the timing is such,” Will conceded later in the week, acknowledging the economic climate that has both the public and private sectors tightening their belts.

But a decade of explosive growth in the program’s assets – literally, open space and trails – has left Will’s staff unable to oversee all that it has helped create at the same time it pursues new acquisitions, he said.

The program will mark its 20th year in 2010, but the past decade has been particularly productive in terms of acquisitions. By 1998, its total assets included 2,800 acres of open space and 16.68 miles of trail. Ten years later, the program was managing 16,368 acres of open space and 40.25 miles of trail, according to the strategic plan.

And the deals, have grown increasingly complex, Will said.

“Ten or fifteen years ago, it was us buying a piece of land outright or maybe a conservation easement,” he said.

Preserving the Grange Ranch near Basalt in 2007 involved three local governments, a state agency, two land trusts and a slew of legal documents, Will noted.

He has proposed hiring four additional staffers next year – a full-time recreation manager, a full-time land officer, a part-time winter maintenance worker and a part-time summer maintenance worker. Currently, the department employs five full-time staffers and six seasonal workers.

A dedicated tax funds the open space program, and the cost of the positions would come from those monies, not the county’s general fund. Total salary costs for the program would increase from the current $622,501 annually to $774,783 annually – a 1.8 percent increase in the allocation of open space funds to personnel costs. If the new positions are approved, 9.4 percent of the program’s $8.1 million in net revenue would go toward salaries, according to the strategic plan.

The proposed recreation planner would take over trail planning and property procurement for trail projects, and oversee maintenance of existing trails. The Rio Grande Trail is the program’s most heavily used at present; construction is expected to begin soon on the Crystal Trail south of Carbondale.

The land officer would take on the monitoring of more than 40 conservation easements held by the program, among other duties.

County commissioners took no action on the staffing requests; they will be considered as part of the 2010 budget review process.


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