Routt County adopts $89M budget for 2023, with strong emphasis on recruiting, retaining staff |

Routt County adopts $89M budget for 2023, with strong emphasis on recruiting, retaining staff

Budget amounts to an increase of $2 million in spending over this year

Routt County Commissioners adopted the 2023 budget on Tuesday, Dec. 6. The spending plan totals $89 million and makes significant investments in county staff.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

On Tuesday, Dec. 6, Routt County commissioners took the final step to adopt the 2023 budget — an $89 million spending plan highlighted by key investments in county staff.

The base minimum wage has been increased to $20 an hour for the lowest paid workers, pay scales have been adjusted to provide more room for advancement and all county staff got a 7% cost of living raise.

Some of these changes are already helping with hiring, especially at Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Other changes that are newer and largely affect current staff hope to continue that trend.

“I do think that the change in base compensation that we made last May has made some difference to some of the lower paying positions that we had,” said Kathy Nelson, Routt County’s human resources director. “I do think that, internally, our employees appreciate the changes that we’re making.”

The budget also invests in public safety, community health and combating climate change. As approved Tuesday, the budget amounts to an increase of about $2 million in total spending, which County Finance Director Dan Strnad said he isn’t concerned about because sales tax revenues continue to outpace budget projections.

“We’re still looking at an 18% increase from last year to this year,” Strnad said. “The economy is still quite strong. Let’s put it that way.”

In a meeting with Hayden Town Council last week, Yampa Valley Regional Airport Director Kevin Booth commended commissioners for increasing wages for the county’s lowest paid workers, many of whom work at the increasingly busy airport.

“We’ve seen a real turnaround this year, so we’re essentially fully staffed everywhere except our firefighters,” Booth said.

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In the county clerk and recorder’s office — the other department with a significant share of minimum wage staff — Jenny Thomas said the increase to $20 an hour has been helpful, but several deputy clerk roles continue to go unfilled.

Thomas, who was elected clerk and recorder last month after being appointed to the role earlier in the year, said hiring has had to take a backseat to other priorities, like running her first county election.

“(Hiring) is a focus for this office going forward and I’ve got some interviews lined up,” Thomas said.

The county’s rolls fluctuate between 300 and 330 workers, Nelson said. Currently, the county has 25 positions open with 11 of those being part-time. Nelson said because many of the changes are new or more impactful for current employees, it may take some time to fully realize their effectiveness.

“I don’t necessarily know if we would see that quick of turnaround,” Nelson said. “I think overall, recruiting is improving. … The people who are applying seem to be, we’re finding, are pretty well skilled for the positions they are applying for.”

The county has conducted several salary surveys in recent years. The surveys probed what county employees were making compared to counterparts with similar job descriptions around the state and have resulted in significant wage adjustments locally.

Changes made to wages after the survey this year will cost the county about $256,000 in 2023. Bumping base pay to $20 an hour will cost about $77,000 and the 7% across the board cost of living increases are expected to add $2 million to the budget. Another $250,000 is being spent to improve employee retirement benefits.

In October, the county shifted pay structures so employees would get their checks every two weeks, as opposed to twice a month. To avoid a break when this change was implemented and “soften the impact of inflation,” staff all got an additional two weeks of their base pay, costing the county $885,000.

Other changes include changing the county’s step system, which gives employees more room for advancement and will cost about $356,000 next year. Another $120,000 in spending will double on-call compensation rates, while $61,000 will pay for changes to enhanced 911 operator schedules that gives them every other weekend off, and $34,000 is being used to lower employees’ share for health insurance premiums.

Pay for commissioners and other elected official is also increasing, though that was prompted by changes to state statute. For commissioners, the change will only affect incoming commissioner Sonja Macys, as pay changes only take effect when a commissioner is elected, reelected or sworn in for their first term. Those changes will cost $22,000 next year.

“(Staffing investments are) putting us, I believe, in a pretty favorable position to retain people and also attract people to the county,” Strnad said. “We’re definitely competitive.”

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