Survey shows Routt County paying some workers less than market rate, others more
Steamboat Springs — Routt County Commissioners got a look this week at their first salary survey by an outside consultant in more than a decade and learned that, in gross dollar terms, the amount by which they are compensating some employees below market rate is almost offset by the amount they are paying others above market for their positions.
“My takeaway from the study was that, on average, we’re right there,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “We’ve just got to clean up some discrepancies.”
The survey by the Austin Peters Group was intended to determine if the county’s pay scale is competitive when it goes out to make new hires for job openings, from heavy equipment operator to clerical workers and department heads (but not including elected officials). Using 96 benchmark positions here, it compared salaries paid by Routt County, job by job, to peer counties and a handful of municipalities. It took into account the overall cost of living index, as well as the cost of housing in the different communities. The results revealed some county employees are not as well compensated as employees of other mountain resort counties, and others are compensated above market rate.
Austin Peters recommended that Routt County look at the costs for bringing four different levels of its employees within market compensation. The cost to adjust the salaries of just those employees who are 10 percent or more out of market would be $68,318. Expanding that to include all employees who are 7 percent or more out of market would be $121, 410. Taking it another step, to include those 3.5 percent out of market, would cost $214,078. And the cost of bringing all of its employees within market rate would cost the county $406,875.
The county’s payroll, including a substantial amount for benefits, totals $29 million this year.
Austin Peters reported that the total amount by which the county is paying below market rate (not including benefits) is $406,000. On the other hand, county pay scales compensate other workers a total of $389,000 over the current market rate.
“We have a lot of employees getting as much as 15 percent over market,” Commissioner Doug Monger said.
County Manager Tom Sullivan and retiring County Attorney John Merrill are not among that group. The survey showed they are paid at below market rates compared to their peers.
However, bringing the entire compensation scale back into alignment with market rates won’t be as simple as it appears at first glance. The commissioners have promised to hold above-market employees “harmless” — their salaries won’t be cut to bring them in line with what their peers in similar roles at other mountain counties. Bringing that side of the equation within market will happen through attrition and over time, Sullivan confirmed.
One group of Routt County employees who are being paid above market are emergency dispatchers in the combined communications center, where stress is high and so is turnover.
Sullivan said Austin Peters has learned that nationally, pay increases have not slowed turnover in that job category, and the trend is reflected in Routt County.
“That’s going to be a complicated discussion,” he added.
Corrigan said that, above all, he wants county employees to know the commissioners will seek to balance what’s good for county employees with the interests of the public.
“You always run a risk,” he said. “There are issues of moral. I want employees to know we’re trying to do the right thing for them, but also what’s fair for our constituents.”
Commissioners just received the survey on June 1 and haven’t had time to determine how quickly they will take measures to adjust the compensation for employees being compensated below market rate.
“From my perspective, it’s not actually that large of a number,” Corrigan said. “I think we’re going to have the ability to close the gap, at least somewhat.”
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