Steamboat Springs City Council debates latest pay raise plan for city workers
Steamboat Springs — City employees here will have to wait a couple of weeks to find out whether the Steamboat Springs City Council will sign off on a proposed pay raise plan that aims to make the city more competitive in the hiring market and retain the workers it already has.
Council members on Tuesday all were on board with the city’s request to restore an additional 40 of the city’s 250 employees back to a 40-hour workweek at a cost of $160,000, but they wanted more time and information before deciding whether the city also should raise the salaries of several of its workers to match the pay their counterparts are making in other Colorado municipalities.
Tuesday marked the second time in three years a new pay raise plan has been debated extensively by the council in budget hearings in Centennial Hall.
During the last go-around, all but the market-rate raises for firefighters and paramedics were voted down by the council after there was uncertainty about whether the salary boosts could be sustained in the long run.
The new plan is sustainable and is something the city can afford, City Manager Deb Hinsvark said early in the city’s eight-hour budget workshop Tuesday.
She said many of the city’s employees have been earning significantly less than their market wage since at least 2008.
“It’s a repair I feel strongly needs to be done,” Hinsvark said.
The market raises would cost the city about $450,000 and would bring the salaries of several city employees up to a market rate that was calculated by comparing the salaries of workers here to 10 other cities in Colorado, including Durango, Breckenridge and Vail.
The plan would not guarantee any future annual raises for employees or implement any step and grade system that many city employees are used to.
Instead, Hinsvark said the city wants to focus on awarding raises based on employee performance.
The city would conduct a salary survey annually to check on how employees stack up with comparable cities and make adjustments if it can afford to.
Council member Sonja Macys said the pay raise plan seems reasonable and could help the city retain workers, some of whom the city says are making 17 percent less than the market rate determined in the survey.
“I look at this and ask what kind of organization do we want to be? What kind of people do we want to attract and retain?” Macys asked.
But after a lot of discussion, the majority of the council said it needed more time and information to make a decision on the raises.
Cari Hermacinski proposed that instead of aiming to bring all employee groups up to a market salary, the city should show which departments suffer from the most turnover and target raises to only those departments to resolve that issue.
“If we have departments or positions where we don’t really have a turnover that would exceed what the private sector is experiencing in Steamboat, I would have a hard time approving those pay increases,” she said.
Macys countered that approaching the market raises just on the rate of turnover would “almost be like saying we want to punish (employees) for not quitting.”
When city staff returns with more detail about the pay raise plan, they are expected to talk more specifically about the turnover rates each of their departments are experiencing.
Planning Director Tyler Gibbs told the council Tuesday his department has experienced a 75 percent turnover rate and a 50 percent reduction in staff during the past three years.
In the city’s police department, turnover also has been a costly issue, Police Chief Joel Rae said after the budget workshop.
When officers leave for higher paying jobs, the city must make significant investments of time and money to train the new hires.
Rae said he still is working to confirm the most up-to-date turnover rate for the department and its estimated financial impact, but it historically has been high.
From 2002 to June 2012, he said, 39 police officers left the city. The number includes some terminations, but he said 20 of those 39 officers left for higher paying jobs.
The council will revisit the proposed budget when it meets Oct. 15.
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