Our View: Conservative approach needed on city staffing, salaries

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At issue

City of Steamboat Springs staff raises

Our view

Across-the-board, market-rate adjustments to compensation not necessarily the best way to reward best employees.

Steamboat Today editorial board — June to December 2013

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • David Baldinger Jr., community representative
  • Lisa Brown, community representative

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

The Steamboat Springs City Council has done an admirable job of managing the city’s finances through the recession of the past five years.

Employee furloughs, salary freezes and staff reductions all were strategies the city employed to make it through year after year of reduced sales and building-use tax revenues. Importantly, the staff changes were accomplished without a noticeable reduction in city services.

City Council members would be wise to keep those staffing and service accomplishments in mind as the council prepares for improved revenue in 2014.

City Manager Deb Hinsvark said last week that as city officials enter the 2014 budget process, they will seek to restore employees in the Planning as well as Parks, Open Space and Recreation Services departments to 40-hour workweeks. Hinsvark also said city officials hope to bring salaries of all city employees up to current market rates for their job descriptions.

“We hope we can support both in 2014,” Hinsvark said.

But just because the city can support both in 2014 doesn’t mean it should.

We think city employees should be compensated fairly and are deserving of merit-pay increases for a job well done. And while some employees have indicated a preference for four-day, 36-hour workweeks, we understand that it is necessary to offer 40-hour workweeks to remain competitive in recruiting and retaining employees.

But we are leery of the kinds of broad-based adjustments Hinsvark advocated. Most concerning are the market-rate adjustments, which would adjust salaries to reflect the average salaries of workers in similar jobs with similar experience in similar cities. Not everyone would get a raise under the market rate adjustments, just those below the average for their job and experience.

We think having market-rate comparisons with similar-sized cities is good information for the city to have, especially in recruiting new employees. But we balk at the notion that such comparisons should dictate salaries.

Returning departments to 40-hour weeks and bumping salaries to make them competitive with other cities would cost Steamboat about $1 million. The ongoing cost would be even more.

Ultimately, city staffing should reflect what’s needed to provide city services. Surely, the city has learned much about its staffing needs in recent years. Pay should be based, whenever practical, on merit and performance. The city should reward its best employees with merit-based raises, which should boost morale, help retention and make city salaries more competitive with those in similar mountain communities. Is awarding across-the-board, market-rate adjustments to compensation based on comparisons with other cities really the best way to do that? Not necessarily.

A conservative approach to budgeting and staffing has served the city’s needs well in recent years. We would advise maintaining that approach when looking to 2014.

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