Hayden raises latest attempt among local governments to stay competitive amid inflation

Inflation in the Mountain West is close to 10%, according to the bureau of Labor Statistics

Hayden Town Council approved a 4% raise for staff on Thursday, May 19, as inflation nears 10% in the Mountain West.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Hayden Town Council approved a 4% raise for town staff on Thursday, May 19, giving employees a pay bump in the hopes of keeping pace with neighboring governments and record inflation.

The town’s staff was scheduled to get raises in November, and Town Manager Mathew Mendisco said he would look at total inflation toward the end of the year and recommend an increase that combined with this 4%, would equal inflation.

“I think this gives us some flexibility in November to see where things are at,” said Hayden Mayor Zach Wuestewald.

The pay increase in Hayden, which will go into effect in June, is just the latest among governments in Routt County as they work to retain employees amid inflation that is nearing 10% in the last year as of April across the Mountain West, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Denver, the closest metropolitan region the agency studies, inflation is at 9.1% from March 2021 to March of this year.

To start the year Routt County gave employees a 4.7% raise to try to offset inflation and last month increased the starting salary of all non-tipped positions to $20 an hour. County Manager Jay Harrington said last week that he is looking at paying employees for an additional week of work as another way to combat the impacts of inflation.

“Our goal is not to poach employees from each other,” said Harrington at a joint Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Commissioner Meeting on May 16. “(Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter) and I probably talk about this once a month because we’re all dealing with the same issues. All resort towns and counties are.”

Harrington said it has been taking the county an average of 62 days to fill a position and instead of the 20 or more applications that would have been typical in the past, he is getting an average of 3.5 applicants. Of 53 advertised county positions this year, 41 have been filled, with 15 of those being a promotion from within.

Suiter said the city has lost employees as well, with at least some of those because they couldn’t afford to live in Steamboat anymore. He said the city is going to do a salary survey to compare city wages to like communities across the state.

“We expect those salaries will be coming back with significant increases across the board,” Suiter said. “We’re hearing loud and clear from the employees and they are telling us we can’t wait. We need to address this now.”

Suiter said he was planning to bring a plan to council that would give employees some relief sooner, either in the form of a retention bonus or salary increase across the board. The latter option could just help the city get ahead of pay increases that are currently planned for later in the year.

But as Steamboat and Routt County increase pay— two governments enjoying well above average tax revenues so far this year — it can have an impact on smaller communities like Hayden and Oak Creek.

The disparity in pay between a starting Hayden Police Officer and a Routt County Sheriff’s Deputy was part of Mendisco’s rationale for the town’s pay bump when he presented it earlier this month.

“Our actions here do have ripple effects, especially for those other counties and municipalities that may not have to pay the robust (compensation) that we have here,” Suiter said.

Oak Creek Town Manager David Torgler said it is difficult to compete with larger governments that can offer higher wages, though the town’s board has been willing to approve higher wages in some cases. Currently, only one of the town’s 15 positions are open, but he is yet to receive an application for it.

“For the last year and a half, we’ve had great difficulty attracting new employees,” Torgler said. “The employees we have been able to hire have been great and we’re fortunate to have them, but it’s been difficult for us to attract applicants.”

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