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City manager still searching for housing

Jeff Hecksel and his wife knew when he took the job of Glenwood Springs city manager a year and a half ago that housing here was expensive.”I think, though, we underestimated just how expensive it is,” he says now.The Hecksels and their two children still live in rental housing, and are continuing to look to buy a place that will meet their needs. But house-shopping has been an eye-opener for them, after leaving Monmouth, Ore., where they sold their 2,400-square-foot home on a moderately sized lot for $189,000.”What can you buy here for $189,000?” Hecksel said.Reflecting the manic nature of the current real estate market, the Hecksels recently put in a full-price offer on a home but it wasn’t accepted.Hecksel’s difficulty finding a home to buy in or near the city that he manages has caught the attention of City Council. It is considering whether to offer Hecksel a housing stipend.It also underscores the severity of the local housing crunch, when the city’s top employee, who earns $108,535 a year, is struggling to find an affordable place to live.”If I’m dealing with it, think of all the other people that are dealing with it,” Hecksel said.He doesn’t consider his situation much different from that of a lot of professional people working in the area. But it points to the degree of the challenge faced by other city employees earning lesser paychecks.”As an employer I’m really concerned about our ability to recruit and retain employees, given the cost of housing in the Roaring Fork Valley, and now what I see is even in the Colorado River Valley,” Hecksel said.Hecksel’s challenge is greater than other city employees’ in one respect – the city requires him to live within 10 miles of its borders.But while other employees can look farther afield for cheaper housing, that’s becoming less of a viable option as housing prices continue to soar in western Garfield County.City Council member Dave Merritt said high housing costs have contributed to the difficulties the city has had trying to hire a new city attorney, even though the residency requirement doesn’t apply to that position.Said Merritt, “Folks, they look at it, they toss their name in, and then ‘Whoa, it’s not really that much (for housing), is it?'”Karl Hanlon, who recently resigned as city attorney but has been helping the city on an interim basis, earned $101,000 a year.The idea of a housing stipend was council’s idea, not Hecksel’s. Merritt said council members think Hecksel is doing a good job and are looking at what can be done to help him get over the housing hurdle.Merritt said the high cost of housing “is a problem that we’ve had, and it’s only getting worse.””I am sure glad that I moved here 21 years ago when it was only expensive,” he said.Merritt also sees the impact of the problem at the Colorado River Water Conservation District, where he serves as chief engineer. The Glenwood-based agency pays decent salaries, and yet most of its employees have to live to the west, where housing is more affordable, he said.Hecksel said Garfield County, local school districts, hospitals and other employers also are facing the same dilemma.In general, local pay doesn’t keep up with the high cost of living locally, Merritt said.”I guess the view is that part of the salary is you stand on the sidewalk and look around at the scenery,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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