Our View: City employees have earned a return to normalcy

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We couldn’t fail to notice this week the relative ease with which the Routt County Board of Commissioners gave county employees a raise in marked contrast to the ongoing struggles of the Steamboat Springs City Council to do something similar.

At issue

City Council’s inability to end furloughs and approve a modest pay increase

Our view

City employees and residents deserve a city that is open for business five days per week.

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.

In case you missed it, after acting last year to restore a 5 percent pay cut its employees had endured since 2009, Routt County took another step late last month to catch up its employees on some of the salary schedule steps they missed. In addition, included in the 2014 budget is a two-point, cost-of-living bump to the salary schedule.

As all of that was taking place at the courthouse, just five blocks away, City Council had to delay approving its 2014 budget last week because of its inability to reach consensus on pay raises for city employees in spite of the fact that it has been debating the subject since June. City employees have been on partial furlough and haven’t received a raise since the Great Recession.

We’ve observed that both groups — city and county employees — have held high standards of public service while adjusting their household budgets to live within reduced incomes. Of course, many private-sector residents of the city and county have had to do the same, and in numerous cases, the hardships have been greater. Still, city and county employees are to be commended and rewarded for holding up their end of the bargain.

We also acknowledge that the city and the county, because of their differing revenue models, are two different kinds of fiscal critters. The city relies primarily on sales tax while the county’s main source of revenue is property taxes.

We urge City Council to take a lesson from the county’s game plan and resolve its dilemma by restoring employee compensation in stages. It should begin by eliminating four-hour weekly furloughs (most city employees work 36 hours in four days) and put employees back on a five-day schedule. Or, if the lesson learned from the furlough is that the same amount of work its employees formerly did in 40 hours can be accomplished in less time, the city should trim its staffing accordingly.

The second step for the city might be to provide a cost-of-living increase to its remaining employees while watching to see if the nation’s modest economic recovery fully takes hold. In the meantime, the new City Council could continue to sort out how it feels about committing to a long-term expansion of its payroll that would result from raising salaries to make them “competitive” with those being paid by other mountain resort towns.

We understand the hesitancy of some council members who worry an attempt by Steamboat to keep up with the Eagle/Vail, Pitkin/Aspen and San Miguel/Telluride pay scales could become a continuous feedback loop that looks out for public servants ahead of taxpayers.

In June, we not only urged City Council to be cautious about advancing the city’s overall pay scale but also advocated for merit-pay raises and a return to full-time employment writing:

“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.”

Our views have not changed, and we would urge the new City Council to act promptly to reassure city staff members that their performance during the economic struggles of the past four years has not been taken for granted.

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Comments

Fred Duckels 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Pilot seems to treat the employees as a unit worthy of being compensated when in reality each individual should be evaluated and compared to the private sector. This will be unpopular but many in the private sector resent the generous package bestowed on some of those that could not make it on the private side. Each must bring bang for the buck that is essential for sustainability.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I note that Scott Ford has posted that he considers comparing salaries to local private sector to be relevant. And that the pay in Eagle county or Durango is not so relevant.

It is almost bizarre that city staff has so far failed to do a comparison with local private sector workers. It almost looks like they are afraid of what that would show.

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jerry carlton 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Private sector gave me a 10% cut in 2008 and no reduction in hours. Never got any of it back as I retired in Oct of 2009 and the branch here closed in June 2010. Working for the government at any level has better wages and benefits than the private sector and it is almost impossible to get fired at the lower levels.

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Bret Marx 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Bunch of haters commenting on this. No one hating on county employees getting a raise! City employees chose there jobs, to be civil servants. So everyone wants to hate on them and keep stringing them along...for years with the chance of a raise. If everyone else doesn't like there job, they should get a job with the city of Steamboat Springs! It's a great organization but it doesn't mean that those people don't have bills and expenses to pay too. With the millions of dollars in reserves,(20+) employees can't get a cost of living raise in... 5 years? Whats's the number I heard last, $730,000. I know, let's pass a million dollar tax on bicycle trails but keep stringing along policemen, firefighters, water department workers, street maintenance workers, parks and rec. Workers SST mechanics....should I go on. I don't see city workers hating on private sector workers for the jobs they've chosen.

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jerry carlton 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Brett Haters is a pretty strong word. The article was about the city so why would anyone comment on the county? I did work for the city driving a bus seasonal one year and started a second season but got a year round job with health insurance. Tried to get on year round but could not make the cut. Still wonder if age had anything to do with it. I stand by my statements that working for any level of government is the best job going.

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rhys jones 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I totally agree, Jerry. Government employees make more money across the board than their civilian counterparts, it's an exclusive club, and nobody gets in, without connections. Cry me a river about their salary woes. No wonder they're always so happy. And you'll change the tides first.

When will the Nuggets pick up a W? They're in Atlanta tonight.

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jerry carlton 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Rhys Not getting the Nuggies tonight. Rough start so far. AVS are 12/1. Hope it keeps going for AVS.

Bret You also do not see government workers paying the salaries and benefits of private sector workers. That is my money and yours that is paying their salaries. They work for we the taxpayers. That is what is wrong with all levels of government. They no longer work for us. They run us and take all they can for themselves, especially Congress.

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Bret Marx 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Jerry, that is also their money paying their wages. City workers pay taxes too. I was just stating that on the same day the article for city workers pay raise made the front page of the paper, so did the article saying county workers get a raise. No one has commented on that article saying, "county workers don't deserve a raise" Just wondering why there was no resistance to those gov't employees getting a raise. And you're right Jerry, working for the government is a great job so why is everyone so down on city workers who choose to work that job while private sector workers chose to work theirs? Just sounds like private sector workers are hatin' on and penalizing government workers for a choice they made, to serve ALL the townspeople of Steamboat Springs. Nothing personal Jerry but it sounds like you didn't impress the right people at the city to get a full time job so now you're bitter and vengeful.

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Jim Kelley 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Easy Brett,

No reason to attack Jerry (Now that's you displaying the "hater" vibe!) It is precisely because we pay the taxes that provide for the city and county employees pay package that we have the right to critique it. It may seem like some here are a bit miffed at the concept of pay raises for government employees but that is because to most folks, such a request is somewhat offensive given the overall drop in wages and jobs in the past 5 years. I personally think that each city employee should be required to work 40 hours a week to earn their benefits and wage/salary and that only a merit based system of review should be used to decide raises and benefits. I believe strongly that no tax payer reliant employee should receive 4 to 6 weeks paid vacation per year, however. That is pure folly and I believe Mr. Scott Ford will be bringing that exact issue to the next city council meeting where this issue will be discussed. Further money for higher pay should come from more efficiencies in "management" and not at the cost of the boots on the ground employees and the brightest managers who display the best leadership (such as those folks who have recently been chased off at parks and rec or the ice rink---(we REALLY miss you Courtney!)). This is how I run my business and such private sector efficiencies should be practiced in local government if these people would like the blessings for raises from us, the tax payers. Otherwise, I believe the popular resentment that you see displayed here will only increase.

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Bret Marx 5 months, 2 weeks ago

City workers would probably love to work 40 hours a weeks but council cut there hours to 36 in 2008. That was 5 years ago. Therefor the city workers pay was cut by 10%. So you say you would require an employee to work 40 hours per week to receive there benefits but they have been told they can only work 36 hours per week. How would that work in your world? The city worker did not choose to have there hours cut. Now 10% to an employee who makes 80k a year might not be too much of a hit but try someone who makes 28k a year. Bummer to hear Courtney left the ice rink. Did she resign or get chased off?

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rhys jones 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Jim -- They will CUT you, send you home, never mind the pile; the servers, cooks, or managers will do it -- just don't get 40 hours -- and there goes your theory.

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Bryan Ayer 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I am a city employee. I work for the Parks and Rec as a Crew Leader. We have 3 districts and 3 crew leaders that cover an area from Whistler park all the way out to the Heritage Park Soccer fields. We take pride in taking care of all the athletic fields, parks and landscapes and facility grounds across this great town of ours. Much of what we do contributes to the enjoyment of the outdoors for citizens and guests alike. We take a professional attitude in making sure fields are safe and in good shape for play so that the city can host Triple Crown, Soccer, Rugby and Lacrosse tournaments, all of which supply much of our sales tax base in the summertime.
This is just my story, there are others in the city in the same situation. I grew up in Steamboat and worked in the private sector for most of it. Even owned my own business. In most of those jobs I felt like I was paid what the job reflected. Currently I have been with the city over 10 years. I work two to three jobs to make ends meat and have picked up more shifts since the furloughs.
I am currently only 38 cents above the bottom of my range and am only paid for 36 hours. I am a Certified Parks and Recreational Professional, a Certified Playground Inspector and Certified in Cpr. I do get benefits in many forms and am grateful for those, but then again that is part of the reason that people try to get a job with a government agency. It's a large part of recruiting. But my wage and the range is currently not competitive. The pay does not match the job, which is something I never felt in the private sector.
All the discussion with the current pay raises should not be about "raises" but comparable pay for comparable work. Within the proposition of this current one time pay plan, not all city employees are getting huge raises. Due to different departmental management styles, some people are already at the top of their range while others are at the bottom. This proposed pay plan really only solves the compression issue and keeps jobs competitive. The work that the city management has put in is really to keep the jobs competitive so as to find and retain the best workers possible. Currently we have been losing exceptional people not only because the pay is not competitive but also that working for the city is currently a stagnant job without much hope for financial or personal growth.
Even though I should probably not present my ideas and opinions to a public forum, I feel that much of the discussion has been missing the human element that is felt by your neighbors and friends that work for the city of Steamboat. I enjoy working for my real bosses, the taxpayers, and hope that you find that we are doing good work. Constituent support of this pay plan would be much appreciated as we will continue to work hard for your money. Thanks

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The county was able to do pay raises without controversy because they are basically a competent government.

The city has been a complete mess.

First city finance director Hinsvark proposed the pay raises only for the city manage at the time Jon Roberts to figure out that the raises were not sustainable based upon the city's revenue projects.

City staff then pulls out a salary survey using places like Durango as if that had any relevance. But the salary survey didn't include Craig or local jobs as if local pay was irrelevant.

City manager now cites that SB may lose an employee to become Head of Public Works for Craig as if that indicates a SB salary problem. So how many people in SB Public Works should be paid better than the Head of Public Works for Craig? Craig is not that much smaller of a city than SB.

City staff has done for salary raises what they did for the police station and just about everything else recently. Which is to provide such unbalanced biased data to argue their case that the public and some on city council are tired of the BS and want an honest discussion on the merits.

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mark hartless 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Mayb they're taking a "Q" from the Obama administration, Scott.

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jerry carlton 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Brett Thanks for the psychoanalysis. Saved me from going to a shrink. Check out the finances of Detroit. Check out the finances of the public retirement system in Illinois and PERA in Colorado. Check out the finances of California. Check out the finances of the bankrupt Federal government. Do not think the same thing can not happen in Steamboat. I am retired. What do you do for a living?

Bryan A well written letter and I do feel empathy for you and other city employees. That said, the city manager and her employees should come up with a study comparing private sector job wages and BENEFITS compared to city job wages and BENEFITS. You and your fellow workers do a great job of maintaining the parks and it is appreciated by me. I think the snowplow drivers and transit system also do an excellent job.

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Bret Marx 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You're welcome Jerry, anytime! I saved you some money too, so you're social security can stretch a little longer. Are your eyes ok though? As for my job, I am in the delivery business. Good money here, I ain't complaining.

Bret(that's one T Jerry)

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Bret Marx 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Great letter Bryan. It's nice to get an actual city employees perspective on this issue and I definitely appreciate the efforts and hard work you and your fellow co workers do for me, your "real boss". I am sure you are not alone in your beliefs with the pay raise/compensation dilemma city council is trying to work out now. Thanks for coming forward and enlightening this forum on the human element of this. Would be interesting to see if the people on this thread would tell there neighbors, who work for the city, to there face, " you've got it made with the city and you don't deserve anymore compensation than you are already getting." And see if a city employee would tell them the same thing in there private sector job.

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John Fielding 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I too wish to express thanks to Brian for his dedication to doing his job well. The people are fortunate to have him in our employ.

In my career I had a great deal of business with landscape professionals, often serving as the supervisor when we did not select a subcontractor, often getting my own hands in the dirt or on the equipment. Of course I came to know the employment structure within the trade very well. There were (are) a substantial number of undocumented workers and many more immigrants with green cards. Naturally that fact keeps the wages low among most companies who must maintain competitive pricing for their services. Since the City presumably does not engage in illegal hiring, (are we e-verifying?), nor for the most part in use of one man subcontractors, ( a tactic used by many contractors to evade workman's comp and SS tax), a direct comparison to the industry becomes problematic. One must select only those landscaping firms with commitments to legal and equitable practices, and who have benefit packages for their workers, before a private sector comparison is valid.

Very few landscape workers (even in this town) get any paid time off. This is also true for many in the fields of construction and hospitality services, you get paid by the hour, period. Until the value of that benefit is quantified, a comparison is incomplete and misleading.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I see no one arguing that city employees should be underpaid or should not receive pay comparable to the private sector.

The whole controversy has been created by city staff's mistakes in presenting this to the city council and the public. Instead of doing the most obvious step of comparing city employee pay, including benefits, to local workers and nearby governments, they chose to compare to Durango and so on. Remember this all started when then city manager Jon Roberts caught then city finance director Hinsvark proposing pay hikes that the city's own financial projections said wasn't affordable.

And now city manager Hinsvark is basically lying to the public by suggesting SB city pays less than Craig when the position in Craig is for their Head of Public Works which is a promotion for all but one of SB public works staff and that apparently isn't the person applying.

Maybe city employees should be paid more, but the way Hinsvark presents incomplete, biased and even deceptive information then it looks like such a raise isn't justified by the facts.

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