Fraser’s 100% Staffing Challenge
By Ed Cannon, Town of Fraser town manager
Fraser, Colorado, like most mountain communities, struggles to recruit and retain qualified staff due in large part to the lack of affordable workforce housing. Recruitment efforts would often see candidates withdraw their application when they learned that Fraser’s median home price was approaching $1.2 million.
Fraser started 2022 at 77% staffing, and many of these positions had been vacant for several years. Unfortunately, within the first three months of 2022, we also lost our public works director, planning director, and water/wastewater superintendent. This reduced our staffing level to 65%. As town manager, I made it my priority to achieve 100% staffing by the end of 2022.
The first element of our recruitment plan actually started in late 2021 when the Fraser board of trustees approved a recruitment incentive plan utilizing American Rescue Plan Act funds. Our incentive package included a $4,000 signing bonus, up to $5,000 relocation assistance, and up to $1,000 per month for six months for housing assistance. This was perhaps the boldest recruitment strategy employed by a Colorado municipality, but it proved to be highly successful. With the incentive program we saw fewer applicants withdraw their application, and we saw an increase in applicants from outside the region.
The second strategy was a restructuring of our public works department. We began by eliminating a mid-management position that had been open for more than three years, and we updated the job descriptions and salary structures of other hard-to-fill positions. For senior vacancies we promoted from within, which created more entry-level positions which were easier to fill than trying to hire experienced operators.
The final two elements included allowing remote work for a newly hired project manager (she currently resides in Arizona but is looking for housing in Grand County), and we outsourced our planning services rather than try to recruit a new planner.
Our recruitment efforts were very successful. Since the first of the year, we have hired a finance director, public works director, project manager, deputy clerk, wastewater plant operator, and three (3) equipment operators. Three additional equipment operators were also hired in 2022, but all left within the first six months of employment. In addition to the new hires, we also promoted individuals from within the organization to fill the streets superintendent and water/wastewater superintendent positions, and we allowed an internal transfer from equipment operator to utility operator. Finally, as a bonus, we also hired a full complement of seasonal employees for the first time since 2016.
I’m happy to report that with two weeks to go until the end of 2022, as of December 15, 2022, with the hiring of an equipment operator, Fraser is at 100% staffing.