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Aspen officials look to fast track childcare options

Aspen City Council gave direction Tuesday to address a dearth of affordable child care, which has become as big of a crisis as the shortage of housing in the upper valley.

“This work should’ve started years ago,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said during a three-hour work session on how to add child care options for young working families.

There are few options for parents to place their infants, toddlers and preschoolers in a quality day care facility during the work day.

And it is forcing people to leave the community. As a result, it erodes the workforce necessary to operate a healthy community and a world-class resort.

It boils down to a lack of staffing — in recruiting, retaining and pay — as well as the high cost of operations, and nuances in licensing and laws, to name a few challenges.

As it stands now, there are 30 licensed child care spaces available for infants, 88 for toddlers and 293 for preschoolers in Pitkin County, according to Shirley Ritter, director of the sales tax-funded Kids First program.

The situation is even more dire for infant care, she noted.

The birth rate to residents of Pitkin County in 2017 was 134 babies, and only 22% leaves 53 babies not in licensed care every year, according to Ritter.

Child care for one child in Aspen averages $68 a day, or $17,000 a year.

Waitlists exist for babies who haven’t even been conceived or born yet, child care specialists noted at Tuesday’s meeting.

Council agreed to fast track some longer term options that were presented Tuesday, including looking at child care facilities at the third phase of developing the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing neighborhood.

Also on the fast track list is looking at partnering with different organizations in the valley, specifically Colorado Mountain College, Cozy Point Ranch and the Aspen Valley Fire Protection District’s North Forty station for potential facility locations.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow said he would like to city staff to consider potential facilities at the Brush Creek Park and Ride, or the third floor of the new city office building at Rio Grande Place.

“We have a responsibility to solve this problem for every child that is born in this community,” he said. “Any and all options are open.”

How to pay for added child care capacity will be a major topic for future discussions among elected officials in the upper valley, as well as throughout the region.

Richards said she would support a ballot question in the 2020 election that would expand and add onto the existing sales tax that is funneled to Kids First.

Kids First is funded by half of a 0.45% sales tax, which brings in just over $2.2 million annually for the program.

That money covers teacher incentives, capital and quality improvement grants, financial aid to families and subsidies for child care programs within the county.

Interim City Manager Sara Ott said 55% of that sales tax revenue goes to child care while the remaining 45% is dedicated to affordable housing.

She said it is at council’s discretion to change the funneling of that money, if it chooses, noting that they are both “high needs in the community.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

New Snowmass Club leadership explains recent management changes, remodels

Change is on the horizon for the Snowmass Club.

Under new leadership announced Aug. 6 during the biannual State of Snowmass Village address, plans for an overhaul of renovations to the club’s facilities and a better balance between public and private amenities are in the works.

“My wife and I are just thrilled to be here. It’s an awesome place and it looks like a fabulous place to live and work and be part of the community,” said Rick Sussman, the Snowmass Club’s new general manager/chief operating officer, at the Aug. 6 address.

Sussman, who moved to Snowmass Village from Texas about two weeks ago, brings more than 35 years of private club, operational and executive management experience to his new role heading management and operations of the Snowmass Club.

Just a week after his new role was announced, Sussman was at the clubhouse meeting with a handful of contractors and consultants to get the ball rolling on the plans for renovations, which will be made to virtually every facility on the club’s 212-acre property.

“The club is starting to show it’s age and members are excited for what’s to come,” said Rick Sussman, noting that the renovations and refurbishments are in the early planning stages. “Right now I’m just trying to meet the members and get to know the staff because they know what the club needs much better than I do.”

But while Sussman has decades of expertise and professional knowledge, his transition into the general manager position came as a sort of surprise to many Snowmass locals and club members, who had been interacting with Scott Brown as general manager since December, when he and three other partners purchased the Snowmass Club from the Toll Brothers for $18.5 million.

Brown has been acting as both the general club manager and the main Snowmass Club spokesperson for the past seven months. On Aug. 6, he was slated to speak at the State of the Snowmass Village address, according to the agenda.

Instead, Sussman and Eric Witmondt, a majority club owner involved in the December purchase, filled in and spoke with the roughly 50 attendees about the recent leadership change and plans for the club’s future.

“We need to prove ourselves as newcomers to the community and to take a lot of input from the community at large and be able to filter all of that input to be able to do the right things to improve the club,” Witmondt said.

Witmondt is a full-time northern New Jersey resident with a second home in Aspen, and owns three private country clubs and a tennis club in New Jersey. He said he has been visiting the Aspen-Snowmass area with his family for more than 35 years, and plans to act as the leading spokesperson for the Snowmass Club moving forward.

When asked why both Witmondt and Sussman were seemingly taking over Brown’s role with the Snowmass Club, Witmondt said Brown’s transition out of a major management position has been in the works since December

“It was always in the business plan for Scott not to act as the general manager long term,” Witmondt said via phone Aug. 12.

Witmondt said the Snowmass Club has been working with an executive recruiting firm for several months to hire a general manager, which they anticipated to bring on in June.

After some delay, Sussman was hired and transitioned quickly into his new role, which Witmondt feels may be why the move comes as a surprise to members.

“Scott always planned to step down (as general manger), it just happened much quicker than we thought,” Witmondt said. “He will still be a minority owner but he has other interests he plans to pursue and will not be involved in the day-to-day operations.”

Witmondt said he and the Snowmass Club ownership group are excited to bring Sussman in at the start of the club’s planned renovation and refurbishment overhaul because he’s dedicated his entire professional life to managing and rebuilding private clubs.

“He has a history of elevating clubs to another level, which is exactly what he plans to do here,” Witmondt said of Sussman. “He knows one size doesn’t fit all and plans to do a lot of listening. … He knows there are no boiler plate fixes and will treat the Snowmass Club like the little gem that it is.”

As talked about with locals at the Aug. 6 State of Snowmass address, Witmondt and Sussman plan to shape the club’s improvement plans, including the public and private amenities it offers, around member and community feedback.

Since it was purchased in December, the Snowmass Club started to establish a harder line between the private and public amenities the club has to offer, which Brown talked with the Snowmass Sun about in the spring.

That hard line included eliminating the majority of outside use of the club by non-members, except for the Black Saddle Bar and Grill, which is open to the public, and significant membership fee increases to help foot the bill for an extensive list of planned updates and improvements to the club.

Right now, the club has 1,200 members. Non-members may access the Black Saddle Bar and Grill year-round and the golf course over the winter.

But in the summer there is limited golf course use allowed by local residents, per the 2002 recreational agreement made between the town of Snowmass Village and then-owners Snowmass Club Associates. Any year-round Snowmass Village resident who is employed 30 hours a week or is a full-time student in Pitkin County can golf as many as five times per year as space is available, according to the agreement.

Sussman and Witmondt implied they plan to continue the club’s exclusivity, but that there will be no membership fee increases made to help pay for the club’s capital improvements.

However, at the Aug. 6 meeting, Witmondt expressed the top management’s desire to become a larger part of the Snowmass Village community, hoping to strike a better balance between its private and public ties.

“We have a membership group that has paid for the use of the club and has bought homes there and are a part of HOAs and they believe they have the right to have a private club environment,” Witmondt explained Aug. 6. “Conversely, the club is underutilized, it certainly should involve the entire community. … We hope to have a better plan than the current plan that’s in place.”

Brown could not be immediately reached for comment.