Steamboat Springs For the first time in more than a decade, the Routt County commissioners are serious about the possibility of hiring a county manager.
"We're getting pretty close," Commissioner Dan Ellison said. "We've talked about it quite a good bit this year. Most recently, the three of us talked with the department heads."
Ellison was referring to the other two county commissioners, Nancy Stahoviak and Ben Beall. Together, the three commissioners oversee virtually every aspect of county government without the aide of an administrator or manager.
The last time the county had a manager was in the early 80s when Don Cluxton and Dave Yamada served in succession.
Ellison said that increasingly, the administrative aspects of running the county are taking the commissioners' time away from policy issues and meeting with the public.
For example, Ellison said there's an upcoming meeting in Denver concerning changes in Medicare that could affect the way home health care visits are funded in rural counties.
"That's a meeting I should be going to because that's my area," Ellison said. "But that's also the week we're conducting department head evaluations."
A county manager could take a lead role in performance evaluations for department heads, Ellison said, and that could have a positive impact on their working relationships.
"You've got two roles that you're trying to play there, and it gets uncomfortable sometimes," Ellison said.
The county commissioners want to talk about the possibility of hiring a county manager with the residents of the county during a series of three meetings to be held at different locations later month, Ellison said.
"We're not going at this thing very lightly, but I think it definitely is about time. We're pretty convinced we need to do this," Ellison said.
Beall, who is nearing the end of an eight-year tenure on the Board of County Commissioners, said he's already made up his mind on the matter. He emphasized that the commissioners aren't contemplating hiring an administrator out of any displeasure with how the existing county employees are doing their jobs.
"This isn't reflecting on our department heads at all, Beall said. "As far as I'm concerned, all of the departments are running well."
Instead, Beall said all of the commissioners feel they are spending too much time on administrative chores, and not enough on policy issues.
"In my eight years, the role of county government has changed," Beall said.
County government is set up to administer rural, unincorporated areas, he said, but with the rate of growth in Routt County, it's changing.
"Our form of county government is set in a time past. How do we make it change? Routt County is unusual. Routt County is one of the few that's resisted a county manager."
Surrounding counties, some with smaller populations than Routt County, have had county managers for many years, Ellison said. Kent Crowder has served in that capacity in Jackson County for about 25 years and Grand County also has a county manager.
Beall estimates he spends about 56 percent of his time on administrative duties and 44 percent on policy development. Ellison puts the split at 55-45 and Stahoviak puts it closer to 50-50.
Stahoviak said she'd like to see a county manager carry out the direction of the commissioners, and give the follow-through on those policies the kind of consistent, focused effort the commissioners struggle to make.
She said the possibility of hiring a county manager has been a topic of discussions for at least six months.
"We've been talking about county management issues during monthly work sessions," Stahoviak said. "We've sat down with county department heads as well as other elected county officials."
The commissioners have not finalized a salary range for a new county administrator/manager. Their own salaries are set by state statute. Stahoviak and Beall, whose seats are up for reelection this fall (Stahoviak is running unopposed; Beall is not running),each make $33,000 annually. The salaries attached to their seats go up to $41,900 next year. Ellison currently makes $37,500. That salary will remain unchanged this year.
All three commissioners said they have weighed public perception of their own salaries while considering whether or not to hire a county manager.
"Yes, we did think about that," Beall said. "I would hope the county citizens would think we're earning that salary."
Stahoviak said she hopes hiring a manager would mean she won't be working 60-hour weeks any longer, but she anticipates she'll still be working more than 40 hours a week.