The city of Aspen is feeling the effects of the labor shortage right at the roots of its flower program this spring.
The city’s parks department is short of seasonal workers this year and short of help from temporary agencies, it’s hard to find enough people to plant the hundreds of flowers that adorn downtown, parks and gardens in the region.
“We have a much smaller team than we traditionally had,” said Matt Kuhn, director of parks and open spaces for the city, noting that it may take longer to plant all the flowers than in the past. . “It’s difficult to meet our normal standards because we don’t have the same number of people.”
The city has relied on temporary workers, but even last year none were available and employees from other city government departments helped out.
The city spends approximately $30,000 to $40,000 a year on flowers. Crews start planting on June 1, hoping to get them all in the ground during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which is usually held the third weekend in June.
“It’s full-court press for three weeks,” Kuhn said. “They start from the city center and make their way.”
He said he remained hopeful that temporary workers would arrive within the next two weeks, but had back-up plans just in case.
“We’re short but we have plans A, B and C,” Kuhn said.
The issue was raised last week at a meeting of the city’s Commercial Core and Accommodations Commission, with members of that council offering their time and expertise as needed.
“People really wanted to help the city,” said CCLC President Jeb Ball. “CCLC has offered its services and will help with publicity or coordination with the parks department.”
There are approximately 80 fenced boxes around downtown pedestrian malls, as well as more than 40 urns throughout the city and dozens of beds in pocket parks, the Aspen Recreation Center, the John Denver Shrine , to the Rio Grande Park and the gardens around the old arsenal building on Galena Street.
“Our hope is that we will put them all in the ground,” Kuhn said.
The parks department, whether it’s park maintenance or construction, has lost at least six jobs.
This is the case even with a wage increase of $18 to $20 per hour for entry-level jobs. Construction crew members start at $22 an hour, Kuhn said.
The flower crew might need help preparing the beds, which is much more strenuous and unglamorous work than the actual planting, he said.
“We have a lot of beds to transform,” Kuhn said. “We would be interested in hiring people even if it’s temporary or part-time for the summer.”
City of Aspen jobs are available online at http://www.cityofaspen.com.