County struggling to keep employees


— A booming economy, coupled with the high cost of living, is making it difficult for Routt County government to hire and retain employees.
Take for example, a former employee hired to do accounting for the human services department.
"He was basically living up on the pass and living in the back of his truck," said Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad.
Strnad said the former employee, a CPA, worked in Steamboat Springs for two months before he realized the cost of living made it difficult to set up a home for his family.
"My own staff put him up for a while," Strnad said.
In the end, the CPA left Routt County, actually took a cut in pay, and moved to a town where he could afford a home for his family Strnad said.
Routt County Assessor Amy Williams said her office loses about 3.5 people per year.
"Ever since the employment market heated up four or five years ago, we lose a quarter of our staff," Williams said. She has two openings right now.
At first, Williams thought it was just the pay. So, the county raised the pay for one administrative position, for example, from $9 an hour to $11.60 an hour after doing a salary survey.
But Williams pointed out other factors make a difference.
"We have a flat hierarchy, there's not a lot of room for advancement," Williams said. "And I think we have a larger percentage of transient workers than many communities."
Williams' office determines property tax rates, and it tracks property ownership so the right people get the right bills.
"The government has a hard time competing with a good economy when there are other options out there," she said.
For example, Williams said that in 1993, she would get 30 to 40 applications for an administrative position.
"The last go-around, I had five applicants," she said.
Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said she's lost two employees this year to other departments.
"I hired new people, but one already left because her husband got a job in Thorton," Weinland said.
What's really frustrating for Weinland and many managers in the county is the training that goes into each position.
"They deal with a lot of statutes and regulations. It takes six months to a year to get them trained proficiently," Weinland said.
Weinland pointed out another employment trend the county is experiencing.
"Most of our employees have to commute from the outlying areas," Weinland said.
At the human services department, Director Bob White said he's been able to retain most of his employees but confirmed the commuting trend.
"Sixty percent of the people we hired in the last two years commute from Craig," White said. "I think it's a little sad that working professionals can't reside in the community where they work, and their kids can't go to school here."
White believes the county is having trouble with only those jobs with particular professional disciplines like legal and accounting work.
"We've had three turnovers in less than a year for our accounting position," White said.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners has been listening to all the department heads describe such problems this week during 2001 budget meetings.
The commissioners said their hands are tied.
"We work real hard on our budget and try and address employees needs and salary needs," said commissioner Nancy Stahoviak. "Being a government entity, we can't go out and raise prices or raise taxes to increase salaries. It's real difficult for us."
Stahoviak points out that a salary survey was done in 1999 and county employees were given "substantial" raises.
"I credit the commissioners with doing the best they can in trying to hold the compensation system together under their budget constraints," said Brad Barkey, director of information systems for Routt County.
Barkey has lost two people in the last year. His office handles the computer systems and networks for the county.
"The cost of living has a lot to do with why employees are asking for raises and asking for flexible schedules so they can take other jobs," Barkey said.
It takes his employees about a year to get up to speed, he said.
"This work is becoming more complex and technically demanding," Barkey said.
But probably the most affected department is the Routt County Sheriff's Office, which has had an 83 percent turnover rate in the last five years.
"I'm at a breaking point," said Undersheriff Dan Taylor, who runs the department's day-to-day operations.
"I've recruited a phenomenal staff and they're ready to leave."
Taylor is having trouble filling five positions. One ad ran for six weeks to little effect.
"We only had one certified applicant, and he had a larger criminal history than most of the people in this facility," Taylor said.

To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208.


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