Our View: City right to wait on bonuses

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Editorial Board, March 2010

  • Suzanne Schlicht, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Blythe Terrell, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

The majority of Steamboat Springs City Council members were wise last week to postpone a decision on paying out $250,000 in performance bonuses to city employees.

Until there’s evidence that the local economy has made a lasting turnaround, it would be premature to allocate unspent 2009 funds on bonuses for employees whose hours were cut along with their pay.

Make no mistake — we’re appreciative of the work and sacrifice made by city employees who were subjected to a furlough program last year that reduced their pay and hours by 10 percent. The city handled the furlough program well, meeting with employees in advance and working with them on a structure that ultimately resulted in most city departments adopting 36-hour work weeks.

While closing City Hall and other departments on Fridays may have caused an inconvenience to some residents seeking services on those days, the effect was to give city employees three-day weekends, which for some allowed more flexibility in seeking other, part-time work, and others the chance to save a day’s worth of child care expenses each week. The city made the most out of a difficult situation for its budget and staff.

It’s similarly important to acknowledge the prudence and responsibility demonstrated by the council when adopting and revising its 2009 budget. When initially handed a budget in which former Finance Director Lisa Rolan projected only a 4 percent decrease in sales tax revenues, the council, led by current President Cari Hermacinski, expressed serious reservations about those projections and revisited the budget a couple of months into 2009. At that time, the budget was revised to project an 18 percent drop in sales tax revenues, and additional cuts were made. The revised projection proved to be spot-on, if not a tad conservative. And we think conservative is a good thing, particularly during a recession. When the books closed on 2009, the city had $750,000 in surplus revenue.

While it represents only a fraction of the city’s 2010 budget of $40 million, we don’t see why that $750,000 is burning a hole in the pocket of some council members and city officials.

On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to spend $250,000 on efforts to improve Howelsen Hill — no specifics were given, though officials said they’re hoping to leverage those funds and the success of our Olympians into major grants and fundraising opportunities — and another $250,000 on projects in various city departments, including sealing cracks in city roads and training for police and firefighters.

In a split decision, the council voted, 4-3, to postpone giving $250,000 in performance bonuses to city employees. Instead, that decision will be made in August, when officials will have a better understanding of the 2010 financial picture, particularly city sales tax revenues.

Hermacinski, Walter Magill, Meg Bentley and Kenny Reisman voted against awarding the bonuses at this time. They deserve kudos for taking the right stand, even though it surely wasn’t popular among city employees.

Hermacinski told her fellow council members, “The debate is not whether staff deserves it. The debate ought to be, should we even be spending it?”

That’s the conservative approach that got us to where we are today — with a small surplus in spite of a battered economy. And that’s the approach we think officials should maintain as they continue to guide the city through the recession.

Comments

Troy Kuhl 4 years, 6 months ago

Don't give back to the employee's that keeps this town a float. Without us there wouldn't be anything. We can do without city council, that's for sure. Let me see, the cost of living keeps going up in Steamboat, but we aren't going to pay you any more money to live here. For any body thinking about working for the city, think again, you can make more money at Walmart or McDonalds, and get a free meal. The city council will probably spend the money on something dumb like, snow on Lincoln Ave. in April. What a waste of money.

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callguinness 4 years, 6 months ago

As Jon Quinn pointed out these are not bonuses. This was a way to offset the cut in pay that the city employees took to help create a surplus of $750K. The last time a city employee saw an increase in pay was two years ago. Compared with the national standards many of these employees were underpaid to begin with, and have now been struggling even more, as have many people, for the last two years. For the most part people who work for the city are not in it for the money, but if they can't make enough to support their family here, they will have to leave. This causes problems in always having new employees who constantly have to be trained and just as they are becoming a true asset they also realize their future here is not sustainable.

So if you are to offer the opinion that this was a good move by city council then I suggest you also offer what to do with this money. Knowing that a relatively small offering of $250K to the city employees could have made a sizable morale difference.

Lastly, if they city sits on this money all year and at the end of this year has another $750K bringing the total to $1M would it then be acceptable to give $500K to the employees?

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sledneck 4 years, 5 months ago

I hope it pisses the city employees off and they all quit. yeah! That'll show us stupid taxpayers!

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callguinness 4 years, 5 months ago

Sledneck,

I can't figure out if you are being sarcastic or serious.

Do you honestly believe it would be a good thing for all the city employees to quit, leaving you with no local government services of any kind? Do you feel it's good to have only entry level people running your current government services?

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sledneck 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm too busy working to pay for all my taxes to enjoy any "services". The point I was trying to make is that we are way, way, way beyond the constitutional scope of government; not just locally but state and nationally as well. Cutting it across the board by 65-80% is the way to go. Personally, I don't care if thats the pencils, the wrenches or the badges. Government needs to shrink,; and the ones who's arrogance makes them feel the most entitled should be the fisrt to go!

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callguinness 4 years, 5 months ago

Ok, now that I know where you stand for sure.

Have you ever driven on a paved road that was plowed, sometime in the not so distant past? If your house was on fire would you want someone to come put that fire out? If you or your loved one was sick would you want someone to come care for them? If someone stole your car (or sled) would you want someone to find out who took it and get it back? Ever wondered how bad the traffic would be if the stop lights didn't work? How about if nobody ever came by and emptied the trash downtown?

These are the essential services you either use everyday, or would be very upset if they didn't exist.

However to get to my original point. These service are the ones where experience is everything. Picture a fire department showing up with all people who have one year or less of experience. More than likely this is their first fire so they are very excited and not totally up on what to do. They can't save your house, and in the process your neighbors house catches fire from the heat and burns down too. Or a group with 10-15 years experience shows up is able to contain the fire to the basement and saves everything you have upstairs.

Maybe a more likely possibility. Your wife is home after surgery, and suddenly you are unable to wake her from her sleep. She looks like she is breathing but not well. Do you want a couple of rookies to be called at home have to go get an ambulance then come and help you. Or would you rather have people with 15-20 years of EMS experience show up 4-5 minutes faster?

Your sled is stolen. Do you want the officer straight out of POST school to show up and start asking you question and then wander off to maybe guess at where to even start this type of investigation. Or would you rather have a detective with 10-15 years of investigating these crimes in this town, ask you pertinent questions and actually know how to take all the best steps to solve this case and get you your sled back.

Is government too big? That is a huge question. Maybe on the federal level. In some places on the local level even, but before you start saying you want to get rid of all the government employees I would suggest you think about some of the ramifications of that.

The city of Steamboat Springs employes about 200 people, most of those are "where the rubber meets the road". Just where would you like to start cutting, and how much experience are you willing to loose?

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sledneck 4 years, 5 months ago

Call, I understand your points about the things government provides that so many of us take for granted. I also agree with the premise that a certain level of government is necessary. That level of government is not my problem. The level of government that is necessary VS the level we now have is way different. I did not say "get rid of all". I said 65-80%. Somewhere in that range of reduction you would see a government inside its constitutional mandates.

If we reduced it to those levels and reduced taxes accordingly many things would improve and change. The government may not have the resources to help my wife to the hospital but my neighbors wife could be there for her because she would no longer have to work a job just to pay taxes. You may not have government day-care but your wife could give up her job and stay home for your kids instead of working just to pay the familys annual taxes. Etc.

No matter what the hardship the point is we should overcome them alone or as a community; NOT through compelled participation in governmentaly engineered society.

I'm sorry but I stand by what I said... reduce government across the board 65-80% and this nation would thrive. All who live here would benifit. All Americans would be unified in a community of which they were a part because we would all have a vested interest in each others success rather than trying to get government to plunder our neighbor for our personal beinfit.

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JLM 4 years, 5 months ago

The City Council is to be applauded for having exercised some prudent financial management in managing to a good outcome --- a meager little surplus.

This was not done out of a sense of meanness, it was the times --- dreadful times for all given the realities of the local economy --- being imposed upon everybody.

City workers should be glad to have had a management and council who were able to maneuver their jobs through the bloody maw --- they saved their jobs and they prevented wholesale layoffs.

The workers are not "entitled" to anything. The old days --- they are NOT going to return any time soon. The economy is drifting slower and lower still and there is nothing one can point at from a micro or macro perspective to encourage one to increase wages or to expand employment.

Stay the course. Maintain your discipline cause the taxpayers who have to fund all this stuff are not getting any bonuses.

I personally think that even harder times are just around the corner because there is literally nothing in the economy that is optimistic just now. I truly hope I am wrong.

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Kevin Nerney 4 years, 5 months ago

Callharp ( not a fan of guinness) could you send over a pair of those rose colored glasses you've been wearing. The real world sees things in more black and white then you do. It's all about dollars and cents. Let's discuss and area I have intimate knowledge of Firefighting,since you brought it up. First, a local scenario. The impending conflagration we are all waiting for comes to fruition. Thousands of acres of trees are burning and multiple homes catch fire just like you see in Ca. when the Santa Anna winds are blowing. Unfortunately, firefighter deaths increase to unbelievable heights and 12 guys get killed. Suddenly, the older more experienced guys say "Hey wait a minute I didn't sign up for this I'm gonna retire and collect my pension and enjoy myself". There goes years of knowledge. About the same time the pencil pushers are going over the new FD contract and realize that they can hire 2 firefighters for the price they are paying the senior guys. It takes 5 years to reach top pay and then seniority pay and addtional vacation etc,. etc. and before you know it the city is saving tons of money. The city says "seeya" to the older guys. The aforementioned fire hits and the public (folks like you say keep the older guys) so the older guys get together and say fine we'll stay and train the new guys but you have to promise us "X" addtional amount in pension funds. Despite what common sense and the public say the bean counters in city hall say no. That was a once in a lifetime fire and we'll play the statistics and we don't need experienced firefighters. Now, to the real life experience I said I had. That is exactly what happened in NYC on Sept. 11 when 343 firefighters made the "Supreme Sacrifice" in the World Trade Center. Tons of overtime,and the reality that we are all mortal convinced thousands of guys it's time to retire. A huge void of senior members in addtion to all the upper brass supervisors now bepleted the ranks and NY refused to listen to common sense and let this guys stick around. Well that was a long convoluted story but I hope you get the idea. Thanks for reading this far,(and if you're curious and even if you're not I retired 8/24/01) so no I did not get to cash in.

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callguinness 4 years, 5 months ago

Sledneck- "I hope it pisses the city employees off and they all quit. yeah! That'll show us stupid taxpayers!"

That was more where my point was directed to. If all the city employees quit, and then get replaced, it really would show all of us tax payers, was the point. I will agree that there are places in government where cuts can happen, there are other places where I would be very concerned if cuts were made.

JLM- The city has quite a large reserve as it is. If I'm not mistaken in the $10M range. The $250K that would have amounted to about $1000 per employee is a small pennies on the dollar, that have been cut from city employees pay. Doing the math you have the 10% furlough, approx. 6% per year "pay for performance" is cut two years of that is 12%. Brings you to about 22% behind the ball for current pay. So I can see no way to call $1000, which is far less that 1% of an employees pay a bonus. This would be a one time thanks for sticking with us and helping us through this tough time.

Kevin- 12 SSFR firefighters getting killed would be more than half of the full time line firefighters, so even if nobody quit that would be most of the experience gone. The FD doesn't have a contract so no worries about the pencil pushers and any of that. Even the most senior people don't cost double that of a new hire so no need to have any 2 for 1 deals. I know people who have worked for the FD for over 20 years and still are not at the top of the pay range, most of the people who are into it 5 years are miles from the top and only inches from the bottom. This leads to an entirely different discussion on compression of pay in the city, but unless you want me to I don't think I will go there.

I'm not worried about the "Major conflagration" I'm worried about my house having a "simple" fire, that can't be controlled, because we let all the experience slip out of the FD. I'm worried that the police won't be able to solve simple crimes if they are all fresh out of POST school. I'm worried that if I'm walking across the street and goofy hits me with my car I don't want a complete rookie crew to come and pick me up in an ambulance. I'm worried that experience is the most valuable tool an employee has. Which is why I'm worried that it sounds like we are loosing these experienced people.

(continued)

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callguinness 4 years, 5 months ago

(continues)

I'm asking, what of this excess? Where should it go? We invested in Howelsen because we thought it would be a small expense with huge gains. I'm thinking this $1000 to the employees shows some good faith back to them for sticking out the hard times, for coming up with a way to come in $750K under budget, when all the budgets had already been cut a couple of times. I'm not seeing why a little thanks is so hard to give out when a little thanks may go a very long way.

Most importantly though. What if they don't give it to the employees, and in 2011 they see another $750K come in from everyone being under budget? Would it then be ok to give all the city employees a $2000 thank you or should they just be ok with the fact that they would then be down by approx. 28%?

This is not an entitlement issue, this is an issue of morale and keeping the experience here in the city.

I'm not sure what it cost to train a new firefighter, new cop, new bus driver, new snowplow driver, or a new mechanic, but I would guess it is much cheaper to keep one around who already knows the ropes.

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JLM 4 years, 5 months ago

@ cg ---

Everybody in America is hurting and city employees did not "stick with us", they decided to keep their job and it may have been the only job they could find. This is the recession economy come home to roost.

The City of SBS is not Santa Claus.

Compensation is set by market forces not by the Easter Bunny.

The biggest contributor to employee morale is having a job.

The money you want to spend was hoovered out of the pockets of the City's citizens --- let's give the taxpayers a bonus!

LET'S GIVE THE TAXPAYERS A BONUS FOR A CHANGE!

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1999 4 years, 5 months ago

entitled to a bonus?????

bahahahahahahaha

if they don't feel they are being compensated fairly they are welcome to find jobs elesewhere.

oh and good luck with that!!!!

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John Fielding 4 years, 5 months ago

In my view the problem here is that we are dealing with this compensation disbursement as bonuses when in fact it should be treated as a reduction in pay cuts.

If we can restore some of the cuts in hours for city workers in areas of priority we should do so. In the areas we have found the reduction in service to be appropriate for the reduced economic activity we should consider further reduction.

There are opportunities here to evaluate the importance of services provided by the city and the means for providing them.

My own experience of having the schedule for plowing my street moved from early AM to near noon is unfavorable. By that time the neighborhood has already had to take the kids to school or leave for work. Those who have cleared their driveways early get snow pushed back across the entrance. It creates more work and a degree of hazard that was not present under the old schedule. But it is a low priority street, an alley really, so the reduction in service is accepted as reasonable in the balance.

One way that we have coped is by using private snowplowing services to do the work early. It is a combination of volunteer effort and donated compensation, very informal and not regular, but it helps a lot in heavy storms. The City might contract for some private supplement from the many plow operators in town.

In another department, Planning, some work the City does routinely might also be better off performed by private firms working for the individual submitting the proposal. Some hybrid of this exists when the applicant pays staff costs for reviews and planning services, but that raises a question of propriety. At least with a private firm doing all the planning work we would know where the interest lies, clearly with the applicant. The staffs responsibility is then just to review, rather like the Building Department. They do not suggest ways the Architects work could be improved, only note its compliance with a narrow range of requirements.

In summary, give the workers the money by letting them work for it, but only where we need the service restored.

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housepoor 4 years, 5 months ago

JohnF is right. They should look to restore the hours before they even consider bonuses. As far as I can tell revenues are still decreasing, they should probably put the money in reserves, they're likely to need it later.

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seeuski 4 years, 5 months ago

John, It sounds like you are suggesting we move to more privatization of services. I like it, we would not be reading this article if it were reality as private contractors would have bid for the work and we know how the private side compares to the public side with regards to efficiency. Did anyone here know that the reduction in city employee pay was going to be re-compensated? I think one paragraph says a lot for what it is that tax and spend Government officials DON'T get when it comes to budgeting for the future. It's always, we have the money so lets spend it. "When initially handed a budget in which former Finance Director Lisa Rolan projected only a 4 percent decrease in sales tax revenues, the council, led by current President Cari Hermacinski, expressed serious reservations about those projections and revisited the budget a couple of months into 2009. At that time, the budget was revised to project an 18 percent drop in sales tax revenues, and additional cuts were made. The revised projection proved to be spot-on," We owe thanks to Cari and others who tightened up the belts and kept us in the black.

So I have to agree with JLM's pessimism that the worst has yet to come. Also, watch fuel costs jump with the usual summer increases and the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, that may have a negative effect on vacation travel and further decrease our local revenues. Please let me be wrong.

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Brian Kotowski 4 years, 5 months ago

While I can sympathize with the affected city employees, I wonder if they are similarly concerned about their counterparts in the private sector who find themselves in much more challenging circumstances?

Something like 15 people are employed where I work, and we've just initiated our off-season schedule, which entails 3 less hours a week. Between now & November, that's several thousands of dollars that each of us is leaving on the table. We're not happy about it, but we accept the necessity - devolving not from malice & greed, but from common sense. There's a reason my company is in the black. And there are even more conspicuous reasons that so many municipalities are not. What Chris Christie is doing in Jersey ought to be taking place all over the country.

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JLM 4 years, 5 months ago

If Gov Christie can tame that NJ beast he should be considered for canonization by the Vatican.

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JLM 4 years, 5 months ago

The elephants in the room are the continuing increase in the price of crude in the face of the summer spike, the slowly increaing cost of capital (interest rates) and the truly abysmal record of the administration in creating jobs.

Of course, it is all overshadowed by the wizard sharp handling of the Iranian situation by this President whose force of personality alone is worth about 12 Army divisions.

Don't you think that if there was even an iota of good jobs news, this administration would have sky writers laying it out above SBS?

Face it, we're screwed.

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callguinness 4 years, 5 months ago

One of my goals in life is to learn how to not continue to beat a dead horse. I feel my points have been laid out clearly and are falling on deaf (blind) ears. This entire issue to me is not about the $$$, it is all about what we as a community stand to lose if the city continues to hemorrhage great people. Who are finding jobs elsewhere. Therefore I feel this horse is dead, at least to me.

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1999 4 years, 5 months ago

call, loads of people are loosing their jobs...you are no more great than any of them.

you no more entitled a bonus than they are entitled their jobs.

look around you.

I am absolutly 100% sure that you are replaceable....as are any of our city employees.

maybe show a little gratitude and not entitlement

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Angie Robinson 4 years, 5 months ago

At our company, we ALL lost 25% of our income, our paid holidays, our paid vacation and our health care. We are still here because we are THANKFUL that we still have jobs. The City employees should be too. I guarantee that there are unemployed individuals trained in most of their positions, waiting for the ad in the paper for that job.

Call...if the issue for you is not about the money, that tells all of us that you really don't see what is going on all around you. It is about the money - the money to pay our mortgages, the money to pay our car payments, the money that is necessary to live in this great valley. You talk about the community, and what it stands to loose - well we've lost our morale too - so shouldn't that money come back to the tax payers?

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