City of Steamboat Springs bus mechanic Thomas Zurstadt looks for the right tool while working on the electrical system of a bus Tuesday at the transportation center. The Steamboat Springs City Council is weighing a pay raise plan that aims to bring the salaries of several city employees up to a market rate determined by a salary survey.

Photo by John F. Russell

City of Steamboat Springs bus mechanic Thomas Zurstadt looks for the right tool while working on the electrical system of a bus Tuesday at the transportation center. The Steamboat Springs City Council is weighing a pay raise plan that aims to bring the salaries of several city employees up to a market rate determined by a salary survey.

Steamboat Springs City Council debates latest pay raise plan for city workers


— City employees here will have to wait a couple of weeks to find out whether the Steamboat Springs City Council will sign off on a proposed pay raise plan that aims to make the city more competitive in the hiring market and retain the workers it already has.

Council members on Tuesday all were on board with the city's request to restore an additional 40 of the city's 250 employees back to a 40-hour workweek at a cost of $160,000, but they wanted more time and information before deciding whether the city also should raise the salaries of several of its workers to match the pay their counterparts are making in other Colorado municipalities.

Tuesday marked the second time in three years a new pay raise plan has been debated extensively by the council in budget hearings in Centennial Hall.

During the last go-around, all but the market-rate raises for firefighters and paramedics were voted down by the council after there was uncertainty about whether the salary boosts could be sustained in the long run.

The new plan is sustainable and is something the city can afford, City Manager Deb Hinsvark said early in the city's eight-hour budget workshop Tuesday.

She said many of the city's employees have been earning significantly less than their market wage since at least 2008.

“It's a repair I feel strongly needs to be done,” Hinsvark said.

The market raises would cost the city about $450,000 and would bring the salaries of several city employees up to a market rate that was calculated by comparing the salaries of workers here to 10 other cities in Colorado, including Durango, Breckenridge and Vail.

The plan would not guarantee any future annual raises for employees or implement any step and grade system that many city employees are used to.

Instead, Hinsvark said the city wants to focus on awarding raises based on employee performance.

The city would conduct a salary survey annually to check on how employees stack up with comparable cities and make adjustments if it can afford to.

Council member Sonja Macys said the pay raise plan seems reasonable and could help the city retain workers, some of whom the city says are making 17 percent less than the market rate determined in the survey.

“I look at this and ask what kind of organization do we want to be? What kind of people do we want to attract and retain?” Macys asked.

But after a lot of discussion, the majority of the council said it needed more time and information to make a decision on the raises.

Cari Hermacinski proposed that instead of aiming to bring all employee groups up to a market salary, the city should show which departments suffer from the most turnover and target raises to only those departments to resolve that issue.

“If we have departments or positions where we don't really have a turnover that would exceed what the private sector is experiencing in Steamboat, I would have a hard time approving those pay increases,” she said.

Macys countered that approaching the market raises just on the rate of turnover would “almost be like saying we want to punish (employees) for not quitting.”

When city staff returns with more detail about the pay raise plan, they are expected to talk more specifically about the turnover rates each of their departments are experiencing.

Planning Director Tyler Gibbs told the council Tuesday his department has experienced a 75 percent turnover rate and a 50 percent reduction in staff during the past three years.

In the city's police department, turnover also has been a costly issue, Police Chief Joel Rae said after the budget workshop.

When officers leave for higher paying jobs, the city must make significant investments of time and money to train the new hires.

Rae said he still is working to confirm the most up-to-date turnover rate for the department and its estimated financial impact, but it historically has been high.

From 2002 to June 2012, he said, 39 police officers left the city. The number includes some terminations, but he said 20 of those 39 officers left for higher paying jobs.

The council will revisit the proposed budget when it meets Oct. 15.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago

"...some of whom the city says are making 17 percent less than the market rate determined in the survey"

Since the city does not claim those same departments have lost staff and is unable to hire qualified replacements then the public is supposed to believe being paid 17% less has had no tangible effects?

That just proves the survey is deeply flawed and was biased to justify pay hikes.

That Hinsvark presented such a biased study with a straight face and didn't say it was obviously biased is just another example of City Manager Hinsvark being biased for her objectives against the best interests of the general public.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago

What would have been the results of a survey of the wages from our closer neighboring cities such as Craig, Hayden, Kremmling or Avon?

Of course, they chose Durango, Breckenridge and Vail because they wanted the highest possible comparisons.


jerry carlton 3 years, 7 months ago

They should replace Durango and Breckenridge with Aspen and Telluride. They could probably pick up another 5%.


Rob Douglas 3 years, 7 months ago

Unfortunately, perhaps due to space limitations, the Pilot's reporting on city employee pay always focuses on salary. It would be helpful to the public policy discourse if readers were informed of the total compensation package that city (and county) employees receive. In fact, at yesterday's budget retreat there was considerable discussion about other components that go into an employee's compensation package - paid time off, health insurance, retirement, etc. - that is important information for readers seeking to better understand how the compensation of local public employees compares to private sector jobs in the Yampa Valley. Hopefully, the Pilot will flesh this issue out so that readers can interact with their elected representatives in an informed capacity.


Tim Keenan 3 years, 7 months ago

Are you serious, Scott? What's the cost of living in Craig and Hayden compared to Steamboat? Just maybe Durango and Vail are a better comparison? These people haven't gotten a raise in five plus years. 17% sounds about right to me. But, since they haven't left, why bother, right?


Scott Wedel 3 years, 7 months ago


So a study that picks places like Vail which has a higher local cost of living and not nearly the nearby affordable towns as are near SB is valid, but a comparison with Craig that is within commute distance for some is not?

The broader point is that salary surveys are generally a pile of crap because how the comparisons are chosen then predetermine the results. What local companies look at pay in Durango or Vail to determine their staff pay? Maybe Fred could answer the question of what happens when an employee of Duckels Construction asks for a raise because the pay is higher in Vail. I rather doubt the answer is "okay, you get a pay raise".

Pay scale is normally set by market conditions. City departments that have few employees leaving and then have a bunch of very highly qualified job applicants are clearly not underpaid regardless of what a survey says. But a department that struggles to find a qualified replacement when an employee leaves is more likely to need pay raises to retain and attract staff.


John Fielding 3 years, 7 months ago

Did anyone notice the number of institutions from colleges to county governments that announced yesterday that they are cutting hours for employees in order to avoid the requirement of providing health care benefits? There were numerous other decisions to increase employee contribution requirements to keep from having to take similar actions.


Scott Ford 3 years, 7 months ago

Local governments (municipalities, school districts and counties) are notorious for comparing wages/salary with entities they view as peers. Although this sounds like a reasonable approach this form of “benchmarking” has the long range effect of artificially ratcheting pay upwards depending on how many entities are included in the comparative sample. Although comparison to peer communities can be useful on many levels, however, in the area of employee pay it is fraught with danger.

A more useful way of looking at this is how Cari suggested it is turn-over. According to July 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistic “local/state government” employers have a turnover rate of about 1.5 per month. Annualized this would be a turnover rate of about 18%. In the Leisure and Hospitality industry sector, seasonally adjusted has a turnover rate in excess of 60%. The average for all industries based on reported employment separations is in the 30% to 35% range.
It is important to remember that folks leave one job for another not solely based on pay. Typically low pay as being the prime reason for leaving is about 12%. To be sure there are pay plays a role but a relatively small one.

According to the study conducted by Manpower, Inc., here are the top ten reasons employees quit: 1. Limited career opportunities (16%) 2. Lack of respect/support from supervisor (13%) 3. Money (12%) 4. Lack of interesting/challenging job duties (11%) 5. Lack of leadership from supervisor (9%) 6. Bad work hours (6%) 7. Unavoidable reasons (5%) 8. Bad employee relations by supervisor (4%) 9. Favoritism by supervisor (4%) 10. Lack of recognition for contributions (4%)

Since personnel cost is 76% of the City’s general fund budget – we need to exercise great caution before making any changes. This is because any changes will be “baked” into the budget of future years.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Though a high, turn-over rate can be okay if the replacements are as good or better than those leaving. That can suggest a superior training program.

And Scott F,, do you have anything on the difference of management structure between private industry and government? My sister works at and has dozens of people reporting to her. That is part of a general private industry trend to minimize management overhead and have the most knowledgeable staff not spend time "managing".

Meanwhile, city management structure looks the same as it ever was with plenty of management positions.


Melanie Turek 3 years, 7 months ago

To the Pilot's editorial team: Will you please also cover all the other budget discussions that took place? Apparently, there was some issue concerning the funding of the tennis center, and we know there is already interest in the ice rink... please, please cover these other issues and let your readers know what other city facilities and programs are under discussion for cuts or additional budget. Thank you.


Scott Ford 3 years, 6 months ago

Hi Scott W – Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.
Turn-over data by geographic areas and industry are available. Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics which is done by the Census Bureau using Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data is aggregated by industry sector provided there is enough employment in that industry sector to have statistical significance. It reports only primary jobs – which in this context is full-time w2 employment defined as 35 hours plus per week and 48+ weeks a year. Below is Routt County’s 2012 Data (Private Industry Sector) • Employment = 10,058 • Turn Over Rate 15.8% • Average Monthly Earnings = $3,670 • Average Monthly Earning for New Hires = $2,412

For Government (Federal/State/Local) • Employment = 828 • Turn Over Rate = 9.3% • Average Monthly Earnings = $4,178 • Average Monthly Earning for New Hires = $2,511

Perhaps another way to look at this data is to look at it based workforce region. I would suggest turnover data using the Rural/Resort Workforce Region. (Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin & Summit). For Government (Federal/State/Local) • Employment = 5,315 • Turn Over Rate = 9.0% • Average Monthly Earnings = $3,865 • Average Monthly Earning for New Hires = $2,696

It is a wee-bit frustrating that when data at this level is readily available and it is not used.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

It is a wee-bit frustrating that when data at this level is readily available and it is not used.

Well, it might be frustrating to people that wish to make fact based decisions.

People wanting to make ideology based decision find this sort of data to be frustrating as it contradicts the story they wish to tell.

And thus explains why the City Council is not generally frustrated at the lack of this data being presented by city staff as part of their background research for a proposal.


rhys jones 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott -- Thanks for the numbers - two things stand out to me:

  • This data is based on 35+ hours/week, a demographic which doesn't apply to me or many others even when we have w2 work, which is not now, as we await opening day, and

  • I find it interesting that the average government worker makes $500 more a month than people in private industry -- something we should keep in mind at raise and budget time. They take care of their own.


jerry carlton 3 years, 6 months ago

Said for 10 years that government jobs are the best paid in this county. Tried for 10 years to get hired by city, county or school district. Never did happen except for seasonal as a city bus driver. Too old when I started. Oh, none ot these institutions would ever age discriminate.

Rhys Close call for the Broncos but everbody needs a little luck. How about those Avalanche! Little early to get excited but it has been a few sad years.


rhys jones 3 years, 6 months ago

Jerry -- I'd probably have gotten in on the government scam myself, but their computers -- which by then they had taught me how to program -- had also by then figured out what a rat I am, so there went that plan. Now I was either too smart or too stupid for anything they had. I think maybe it traces back to when I hit Mrs. Otten in the head with a chalkboard eraser, in the 8th grade, quite unintentionally... I never believed 'em when they said "This will go on your permanent record." But here we are. You tell me.

I thought the Broncos would stifle the Cowboys' offense much better than we saw; Romo had it going on!! Lucky to squeak out of there with a win. Ain't much of an Av's guy (only sport which condones assault) but was happy to catch the Nugs beating the Lakers, albeit sans Kobe...


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