Tax eases Pitco hiring crunch | AspenTimes.com
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Tax eases Pitco hiring crunch

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

An indirect effect of the $800,000 property tax increase Pitkin County voters agreed to last November is that slowly but surely county departments are restaffing.

There’s a new employee in the clerk and recorder’s office. A couple of new hires in the assessor’s office will start work Monday. Interviews are under way for a new emergency services coordinator. The landfill is staffing back up, as is the dispatch office that takes 911 calls.

In all, about a dozen positions that opened up through attrition between June and November were left unfilled during a five-month governmentwide hiring freeze.

The hiring freeze went into effect after the county finance department forecast a $1.2 million deficit. At the time, in late June, the county commissioners laid off three full-time employees and redirected some of the revenues from the landfill into the county general fund. The June cuts came on top of six jobs that were eliminated at the beginning of 2002.

The commissioners also decided to go to the voters twice ? the August primary and the November general election ? to ask for tax increases.

Employees in the county became increasingly worried about their fate after the August primary, however. Voters came out overwhelmingly against a change in the county’s home-rule charter that would have netted about $150,000 to be added to the $17 million general fund.

“We were anticipating further reductions if the tax didn’t pass in November,” said Pitkin County Manager Hilary Smith.

But the county’s general election proposal to increase property taxes for five years and dedicate the revenues to support health and human services and community nonprofits passed by a comfortable margin.

Although some of the vacancies that opened up during the hiring freeze would have been filled regardless of the election’s outcome, the county would have had to permanently cut a number of positions to continue funding certain health services that are mandated by state law.

The tax increase ? $4.20 per $100,000 in property value ? allowed the county to fill most of the vacant positions, however.

They include two dispatch jobs, an assistant clerk and recorder, a position in the assessor’s office, a human resource specialist, two slots at the county landfill, two in the finance department and an emergency services coordinator, according to Amy Barwick, the county human resources director.

The positions that were not filled, and have been permanently cut from the county budget, include a full-time planner position in the community development department and the full-time weed manager job at public works. Smith said a part-time, seasonal weed manager will be hired this spring.

Silvia Davis, the county’s clerk and recorder, was quick to fill a vacant slot in her department once the hiring freeze was lifted.

She said she had a difficult time making do with one less full-time position all summer. One job requirement of the clerk and recorder’s office is to record property transactions. Davis said the last year has seen a huge increase in the number of sales, most likely because interest rates are at their lowest since the late 1960s.

“It was big time,” Davis said. “We were very much affected because there was the increase in recording, plus we had to go through two elections.”

One of the two spots filled in recent days by assessor Tom Isaac will a be position that was left vacant for about a month. He said the effects of the freeze were not as bad as they could have been, because this is an off year for his department, which reassesses the value of property in Pitkin County ever other year.

“We’re working on reappraisals now,” Isaac said. “The freeze was getting to be an issue, and if it had gone on any longer it could have been a problem.”

The assessor’s department is working with the same number of employees it had 12 years ago when Isaac was first elected. “We’re bare bones, so one position could mean a lot,” Isaac said.

Managers throughout the county are reporting a noticeable increase in both the number and quality of applicants for open positions. Their experience is similar to what other employers in the area report.

County human resources director Barwick said three years ago, when she was managing Vectra Bank in Aspen, there would typically be 200 positions being advertised in the classified section of the local newspapers. Employees had an endless array of choices throughout the winter and summer seasons.

Employers are no longer in such a hyper-competitive situation, however. In yesterday’s edition of The Aspen Times, there were only 23 positions advertised in everything from child care to retail.

“I haven’t been hiring for years, but I was surprised with the qualifications and skill level of applicants coming in,” Barwick said of the applications she received to fill the opening for a human resource specialist.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]


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