Despite offering $1,000 housing stipend, CDOT still has just one plow driver in Steamboat

Agency hopes legislation this spring could help address 20% vacancy rate across Colorado

A Colorado Department of Transportation plow truck clears snow on U.S. Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass on Nov. 3. The agency has just one out of six plow driver positions in Steamboat Springs filled.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs is currently down one seasonal snowplow driver out of 20 positions. Routt County is fully staffed with 32 snow pushers.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Transportation has just one out of six positions in its Steamboat Springs garage full.

In a meeting with Routt County commissioners on Tuesday, Dec. 20, officials from Routt County, Oak Creek, Yampa and Steamboat commended local CDOT personnel for keeping up with plowing so far this season, especially since there are so few of them.

“Everything has been pretty normal,” said Jon Snyder, Steamboat’s public works director. “We have not seen the dropoff that we were all fearing we would see when we heard how short they were on operators.”

Randy McIntosh, maintenance superintendent in CDOT’s Section Six, said that’s because he has been moving plow drivers from nearby garages in Craig and Hayden to cover Steamboat when needed — part of an “all hands on deck” approach that the agency detailed before the snow started flying.

This approach is also being used across the state, where one in five CDOT snowplow jobs remains vacant.

CDOT Director of Maintenance and Operations John Lorme presented a host of strategies the agency is taking to get staffing levels closer to what they should be. He even said he was hesitant to share the strategies with Routt County officials because they often compete for the same workers.

But Routt County Manager Jay Harrington had some bad news for Lorme, saying that apart from building workforce housing, the county has already done all the things Lorme shared.

“We’re all doing the same thing,” Harrington said. “We have changed more HR policies in the last 12 months than probably the last 12 years. … I can get things done in a month which takes you 18 months, and as a result, our plows are fully staffed.”

The key difference is pay. Steamboat pays entry-level full time plow drivers just under $26 an hour, and that goes up by 3% on Jan. 1. Routt County starts its drivers at about $22 an hour, but almost all of them have been on the job for years and make significantly more than that.

CDOT’s posting for the position in Steamboat Springs advertises $19.31 an hour.

Jason Smith, CDOT’s Region Three Director said they also offer a $1,000 a month housing stipend for the Steamboat job and similar stipends are spurring more applications in places like Aspen. Still, the stipend hasn’t filled positions vacant in Steamboat yet. 

“I think that it’s a good short-term solution to be providing these housing stipends,” Corrigan said. “For you to address your longer-term issues, you need to be able to hire people and pay people that are going to be in the neighborhood and the community long-term, and a housing stipend probably isn’t the way to get there.”

Routt County commissioners asked what they could do to try to get CDOT more funding and get pay for these critical positions closer to what the county is paying its own staff.

Smith said some strategies, like overhauling the agency’s pay scales by increasing the starting wage and allowing employees to move through the step system quicker, are in the works. 

But, as Harrington alluded to, CDOT does not have the ability to make those changes on its own.

“We’re anxiously awaiting that for spring to see if that legislation is passed,” Smith said. “We’re all vying to hopefully get some of these more permanent fixes.”

In response to questions from Steamboat Pilot & Today, Gov. Jared Polis’ office said his budget proposal included increased wages for state employees like plow operators.

“The Governor’s budget request included an increase to market competitive levels for these workers to help attract more snow plow drivers as this is a step forward toward addressing challenges and ensuring that Colorado remains an employer of choice while providing the delivery of critical state services,” said Press Secretary Conor Cahill.  

Cahill also pointed to a fact sheet the agency put out in November that says plow drivers have received a 3% wage increase in each of the last three years and that the agency increased first-year pay by an additional 7.5% for core maintenance positions. Routt County staff, including its 32 plow drivers, got a 7% cost of living wage increase in the budget commissioners approved earlier this month.

Polis’ budget letter released in November actually would decrease total funding for CDOT by $4.3 million, though that is just 0.2% of the agency’s entire budget. That letter does say it makes a “historic investment” in state employees.

“I think it can be hard to understand how critical all these services are for a place in the middle of nowhere,” Routt County commissioner Beth Melton said. “If there is any opportunity to support you all in advocating for what you need to be able to pay and hire people, we would be happy to do that.”

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