Higher wages for city employees may be coming this summer | SteamboatToday.com

Higher wages for city employees may be coming this summer

Steamboat Springs City Council accepted a proposal from city staff that would increase base pay for full-time city employees and provide bonuses for current employees who worked during the pandemic.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Amid rising costs of living, Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously accepted a proposal that would issue bonuses and raise salaries up to 6% for city employees starting in July.

The proposal next becomes an ordinance for City Council to review and vote upon.

According to the city, the turnover rate for full-time staff was about 20% last year, around double the normal rate. To stop the bleeding, City Manager Gary Suiter proposed to City Council on Tuesday, May 24, a supplemental budget appropriation ordinance that would raise wages for full-time staff and offer appreciation bonuses to city employees who worked through the pandemic.

“I could have every manager that’s sitting in this room come up to the podium and tell you a story of employees that they’ve lost, employees that they’ve tried to recruit and lost,” Suiter said.

City Council unanimously approved the employee appreciation bonus, which would give current employees who worked during the pandemic $500 for each six-month period they worked full-time from March 2020-2022, maxing out at $2,000 for those who worked the whole 24 months.

Staff estimates the cost for the bonus program would be around $410,000.

The bonuses and raises exclude sworn-in employees of the Steamboat Springs Police Department because they received raises earlier this year.

Seasonal workers would not qualify for the raises or bonuses either because administering across-the-board pay increases to seasonal staff would inevitably create inequity among positions. Individual departments and their seasonal positions are so different they each require flexible approaches that should be handled separately, according to city officials.

City Council, the city manager and city attorney would all be ineligible for the raises.

The estimated six-month cost — from July to the end of 2022— for 3% raises would be $320,000, while 6% raises would cost $620,000.

Sales tax revenue from January through March was almost $3.9 million over what was budgeted, but Suiter was the first to advise against expecting such large windfalls in future years’ budgets.

Suiter recommended a wage increase of 5%.

“Conventional wisdom is you’re better off in investing in retention than you are recruiting and training a new employee,” he said.

City Council supported the proposal unanimously, while a majority even supported going up to 6%.

“We’ve got to take care of our employees,” said council member Michael Buccino. “We have to pay them equivalent to the private sector.”

Steamboat Springs Public Works Director Jon Snyder said his department is losing employees to private businesses in town that offer more competitive pay.

“It all boils down to base pay for us, and we’re getting outbid,” said Snyder.

Wendy Ecklund, the city’s Human Resources and Risk Manager, says the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Department has been successful at onboarding seasonal employees because of raises and sign-on bonuses, but Steamboat Springs Transit is struggling mightily despite perks and pay increases.

“We are seriously lacking applicants for our seasonal bus drivers,” Ecklund said.

Suiter assured that recruiting seasonal bus drivers will continue being a priority for him and his staff. The city plans to construct employee housing for transit employees, as a lack of affordable housing is routinely cited as a cause for the city’s challenges hiring bus drivers.

The Routt County Commissioners recently signaled they would approve raises for county employees and Hayden approved a 4% raise for town staff.

“It’s not the fact that we have money,” said Buccino. “We just have to take care of our employees, we need the services, and we need that kindness that floats the boat.”

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