Glenwood Springs struggles to maintain service levels with widening employee gaps
Housing, child care, competitive pay ID’d as primary recruitment challenges
Glenwood Springs is hiring, but few are answering the call, City Manager Debra Figueroa said.
Recruitment hurdles include the area’s high cost of living, limited housing, lack of child care options and a competitive job market.
With nearly 50 open positions, including 16 full-time, 22 part-time and 11 seasonal, Figueroa said providing residents with pre-pandemic levels of service is becoming a challenge. “Unfortunately, the residents’ service expectations don’t align with our current staffing levels,” Figueroa said. “My main concern at this point is employee burnout. Our staff is doing so much to make up for the gaps that we could end up losing the ones we have.”
Staffing shortages began in 2020 after the city implemented temporary cost-saving measures, such as a 10% pay cut for full-time employees and laying off several part-time positions. As the city re-opened those positions at the end of the year, many employees didn’t return, Figueroa said.
To help with recruitment and staff retention, the city created a 6-week parental leave program about three years ago, increased staff pay in 2021 by an average of 6%, and is looking to develop child care opportunities for its employees, but Glenwood Springs isn’t the only city struggling with recruitment.
“We’ve seen a lot of competition from the other towns and cities in the valley,” Figueroa said. “Other communities up valley increased their staff pay by 5% and plan to increase it by another 5% in 2022.”
Although applications continue to trickle in, Figueroa said offers are often declined after potential employees research the housing situation in Garfield County or try to find child care.
The two departments hit the hardest by the employee shortages are police and parks and recreation, Figueroa said.
Backfilling seasonal positions
To keep the community center pool open this summer, Parks and Rec Community Center Manager Cristi Newton said full-time staff had to fill in as lifeguards.
“We’ve always struggled to get seasonals in the summer, because we’re competing with all the other communities in the valley,” Newton said. “But this year, lifeguards have been nearly impossible to get.”
When the community center increased the pay rate for lifeguards this summer, Newton said she watched nearby communities respond by increasing pay for their lifeguards.
In years past, Glenwood Springs hired up to 30 seasonal employees throughout the year, but in early November, Newton only had four seasonal employees on staff.
“We were hoping that staffing would not be an issue after the pandemic shutdowns ended, but not even 10% of our part-time and seasonal staff returned,” she said. “It caught us all a little unaware, because we thought we had all this staff in the wings.”
Of the city’s 49 open positions, 35 are within Parks and Rec.
“We have been trying different recruitment tactics,” Newton said. “We hit social media hard for recruiting and hosted our own job fair at the rec center in September.”
Less than 25 people attended the job fair, but she said a lack of event marketing might be to blame. To bolster numbers, Parks and Rec is offering bonuses to seasonal employees who stay for the whole season, recruitment bonuses for employees who refer applicants and changed some policies to be more appealing to parents.
“We hired employees to work at the rec center daycare and allowed them to bring their kids, which we’ve never done before,” Newton said. “They needed child care, and we needed employees.”
Shrinking candidate pool
Police recruitment is down nationwide, Chief Joseph Deras said, and Glenwood Springs is competing with law enforcement agencies across the Western Slope.
“The first part of the issue, in my opinion, is the national media coverage of events around the country, such as the George Floyd event,” Deras said. “The candidate pool has diminished as a result of the coverage of those events.”
Deras’ department is authorized to employ 29 sworn employees, but he said he only has 20 officers, with one of those planning to depart soon.
“We’re asking our officers to do a lot, and the pay is not commensurate with what we’re asking them to do,” he said.
Though the workload might be comparable to nearby communities, other municipalities offer more incentives. Deras said Aspen offers an employee housing program — a benefit some of his applicants have inquired about — but Glenwood Springs doesn’t provide a comparable program.
“We might start with a pool of 10-20 applicants,” he said. “But then some don’t show up, others can’t pass the tests, and we end up with two.”
Concurrent with Figueroa’s and Newton’s observations, Deras said child care and housing are the primary reasons applicants turn down job offers.
As a result, the police department is responding to fewer calls, such as fender benders or vandalism, he said.
“We’re still responding to emergency calls, but collision reports only serve the insurance companies, and there’s little we can do about vandalism calls with no suspects right now,” he said.
Additionally, being understaffed creates a strain on the department’s current officers.
“It impacts us in several ways,” Deras said. “There’s a fatigue that sets in. We’re asking for more from less people — overtime, coming in on days off, and the call volume hasn’t declined.
“That starts to wear on someone after a while.”
There is no clear path to refilling the department’s roster, but Deras said he is aggressively recruiting at police academies in Colorado and neighboring states. With a growing Hispanic community in and around Glenwood Springs, he said he is also offering bonuses to bilingual candidates who speak Spanish.
Figueroa said despite the city’s efforts, employees are not lining up to fill the empty positions, and the lack of applicants will eventually be felt by the residents.
“With the pandemic restrictions lifted, people are expecting a return to normal,” Figueroa said. “We’re trying to be understanding, but the reality is we don’t know when or if there will be a return to normal.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.
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