Limited staff of part-timers struggling with town’s future
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
Even with a limited staff, capped by the one-full-time employee, Green Mountain Falls is trying to hit the ground running in grappling with major infrastructure challenges and a hefty project list.
Led by Interim Town Manager Jason Wells, whose contract expires at the end of May, GMF leaders recently signaled the green light for a nearly $250,000 road enhancement and drainage project along Belvidere Avenue that will include a vast paving overhaul. The project, which has been in the planning stage for several years, is slated to get done this summer
But this is just one very small step of the massive marching orders for a staff, largely run by consultants and the outsourcing of employees. This is a big change from the way the town has operated for decades.
In fact, the town is trying to restructure its road maintenance program by establishing four residential districts; open and operate its summer pool without incurring too many delays; collect considerable revenue from short-term rental properties and vacation homes to help the city’s bottom line; put the finishing touches on a $40,000 emergency fixture of the Gazebo island so wedding-goers and visitors don’t fall in the lake; redoing many of their ordinances to keep the town legal; and addressing park enhancements by possibly ordering the removal of a long-standing Green Box Arts-sponsored display; scrutinizing the city’s expenses and budget restraints; and setting the wheels in motion for a major comprehensive master plan.
All this will be done by mostly a part-time staff
Recently, GMF hired Mike Farina, the Woodland Park finance director, to help prepare the town for an audit and work on the 2018 budget. Farina will work on a “as needed basis,” according to Wells.
Other new hires include Judy Egbert, the interim town clerk; Nathan Scott, a special projects assistant; and Sandy Merrell, an administrative support employee.
Meanwhile, Dany Vanderhoef, a part-time GMF maintenance worker, is pretty much acting as the head public works chief. He is trying to revamp the town’s road maintenance program by dividing the residential parts of GMF into four road improvement zones.
Deteriorating road conditions have been a big headache for GMF for the last five years.
Only one small problem with this ambitious task list: None of these employees are full-time. The only full-time employee of GMF is Marshal Virgil Hodges.
Wells, who served as the city administrator for Manitou Springs for three and a half years, has played a key role in assembling the current crew of outside workers. But even he works for the town on a limited basis, two days a week. Egbert, the head clerk, is only scheduled to work several days a month for GMF.
“It is a skeleton crew,” admitted Wells, who says he has found the role of assuming the head reins of the town much more challenging than expected. Wells was supposed to hand over the reins at the end of this month to a permanent town manager.
But he says that reality isn’t going to occur. “I really wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that,” added Wells, in a recent interview. Town leaders have agreed to suspend this search.
As a result, Wells will probably be more of a permanent fixture for GMF. And at least for the interim period, the town will operate with much more part-time help and outsourcing of services.
Wells and Egbert recently launched a major effort to review the town’s staffing needs. In a recent workshop, town officials identified major concerns in the finance and planning arenas.
No backing down with town manager approach
Even with these staffing hurdles, GMF leaders show no backing down in their support of a town manager form of government. Also, some residents like the new arrangement, even with less regular workers at town hall.
Mac Pitrone, a long-time resident and frequent critic of town hall operations, lauded the current staff members at a recent meeting. “I have been highly satisfied with our staff,” said Pitrone, who cites the current cadre of employees as quite competent and efficient, even if town hall isn’t staffed on a regular basis. That’s a big change from previous comments made by him and other critics.
Pitrone’s only complaint recently: Get rid of the local “Bird’s Nest.” Pitrone was referring to an art display in the main park area near the swimming pool that has adorned GMF for several years. This display, crafted by nationally known stick artist Patrick Dougherty and called” Footprint,” was originally installed in the summer of 2016.
A debate has developed over whether this environmental-friendly display now represents art or a public safety hazard. “It is deteriorating,” blasted Pitrone, who wants to return the park area back to more of a hub for picnicking and regular uses. Others, though, believe the display is a good play hangout for kids. Some, meanwhile, say Dougherty’s work has served its purpose and should come down.
Wells agreed to review the permitting for the Green Box display and believes the permit should be either renewed, or efforts made to take the display down.
One project that has received much universal praise is the rebuilding of Gazebo wall at the lake island area, a prime spot for weddings. “It has been very positive,” said lake designer Tom Hughes, who spearheaded the emergency work, involving the replacement of more than 100 cement blocks to solidify the wall.
He cited the cooperation of outside agencies and companies for a project that would have cost close to $100,000 if all the contractors charged their regular prices.
Other pending debates, though, still deal with the ongoing argument over short-term rental and vacation homes. Some want to expand these uses, and support more aggressive collecting of the necessary fees by the town hall, while many residents say enough is enough. “We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Trustee David Pearlman, a local lodging operator, during a recent meeting. He contends that the town has built a historic reputation as a summer vacation hub. “This is a vacation/rental town,” he added.
Other trustees, such as Mayor ProTem Cameron Thorne, worry about setting a precedent for establishing a lodging district in certain residential areas.
Many of these issues will get debated when the town develops a new $100,000 master plan this year.