Rio Grande County discusses pay raises and supply shortages


RIO GRANDE COUNTY — The Rio Grande County Board of Commissioners received an update during its June 16 meeting from Road and Bridge Director Patrick Sullivan on supply shortages and hiring difficulties due to low wages.

Rio Grande County Sheriff Don McDonald also expressed to the board his department was having a difficult time hiring due to wages.

McDonald pointed out that the county is falling short on hiring wages compared to elsewhere in the Valley and spoke briefly to the board about potential pay raises for the department. McDonald said that the department was having a hard time getting people hired because of how low the hiring wage is at the county at this time.

Sullivan said that he is also having issues getting people to come work for his department and asked the board to consider a raise across the board rather than a raise for specific departments.

“I agree wholeheartedly with the sheriff when he said that he needed to get his guys up on pay," Sullivan said. "But what I find interesting is that we have a budget that supports it through our side, and we’ve come to the board many times to try and get our pay elevated to where they should be, we’re shut down. I encourage you to stick with the wage across the board, we all have important jobs and so to isolate, pinpoint, you can’t do that. We all play an integral part of this county.”

Sullivan gave an example of what he recently dealt with while trying to hire for his open position. He said that he had an individual who was qualified for the job walk into the office. He was also the first person to respond to the job opening in over a year, but he ended up walking out because of the lower-than-average hiring pay that was offered.

“He had all the qualifications we needed, we had a gentleman retiring after 48 years of service, and I thought this was going to be perfect," Sullivan said. "The guy turned it down because it wouldn’t even cover his bills. With that being said, I ask you to stick with it. We need some help there.”

Sullivan moved on to discuss a potential supply shortage that could affect coming projects. According to Sullivan, Suncor, the main company the county uses to supply performance-grade asphalt, has been shut down for about six weeks. Suncor is the only refinery in the state who supplies materials needed for asphalt and paving projects completed by the county Road and Bridge Department.

“They have been shut down due to maintenance," Sullivan said. "I believe there are some regulation issues they needed to address. They are the main supplier for performance-grade asphalt in the state of Colorado and their supply is next to nothing. They are not producing. They were supposed to start the plant back up sometime this week. With that being said, all the performance-grade asphalt is committed to the Front Range for two reasons. One, because Suncor produces it, and two, because Suncor owns the market on all the trucking. They have tied up all the transport trucking pretty much along the Front Range.”

Sullivan explained that at this point, several materials have been ordered from Suncor but that only two items have yet to come in which is less than minimal for some of the projects slated for this summer. He said that he could go either to Kansas or Texas for material but that the cost would go up due to transport. 

“What I have opted to do is push back our performance asphalt projects until late August or September to see if Suncor can catch up," Sullivan said. "I have talked with the vice president of operations because he basically called and told me that we are not going to be getting asphalt anytime soon.”

Commissioners agreed with Sullivan's wait-and-approach.