Rob Douglas: PTO: How much is too much?


In the coming weeks, the Steamboat Springs City Council will continue to debate a subject it has wrestled with since the onset of the Great Recession. The subject is city employee compensation, and the debate concerns how to determine fair compensation. While the focus of the debate usually is wages and salaries, the category of compensation most in need of adjustment is the amount of paid time off employees receive.

Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

The latest round in this struggle began at the city’s budget retreat when the city management team presented the City Council with a recommendation for changes in employee staffing levels and pay. Under the proposal, 40 employees currently working 36 hours per week — because of a 10 percent reduction in hours and pay imposed on a majority of employees because of the recession — would return to full pay and 40-hour workweeks. Additionally, a range of employees would see pay increases based on “market” and “experience” adjustments while all employees would contribute slightly more for health insurance and medical expenses. Those changes would result in an additional $898,000 in employee salaries.

In context, the budget for employee wages and benefits (including other changes) would rise from $16,918,934 in 2013 to $18,017,995 in 2014. In a revenue stream dominated by sales tax, employee compensation for 258 full-time equivalent positions — including 216 benefited employees — would equal 96 percent of the $18,750,000 in projected sales tax revenue for 2014. While total city revenue is projected to be $45,000,000, some members of the council are concerned about the percentage of city revenue that would be directed to employee compensation.

The management team’s argument for market increases is based on salary comparisons (adjusted for cost of living) with the Colorado cities of Breckenridge, Carbondale, Delta, Durango, Glenwood Springs, Golden, Grand Junction, Louisville, Vail and Wheat Ridge.

One question that will arise at Tuesday’s council meeting is whether employee compensation should be based on market comparisons or employee turnover. At the meeting, the management team will present information on turnover and replacement costs.

In anticipation of that discussion, council candidate Scott Ford provided the council with information about public and private employee turnover rates for Routt County and the region. That data indicates the turnover rate for government workers is significantly lower than it is for the private workforce.

Of course, employee turnover is not merely a function of pay. Just like many low-crime, small communities, turnover in the police department may result from officers transferring to larger departments where there is more “action” and room for advancement. Similarly, in other city departments, employees seeking to further their career may seek opportunities outside of Steamboat.

And turnover is not inherently bad. A modest amount of turnover is healthy for any organization.

Whether the council decides to evaluate employee pay based on market comparison, turnover or both, the reality is salaries paid to city workers are not exorbitant. No one is getting rich working for the city and most aspects of the benefit package contribute to a level of compensation that is reasonable.

So just as proponents of higher pay shouldn’t play salary leapfrog with other markets, those who think city workers are overcompensated shouldn’t use comparisons to private sector wages and benefits that have been stagnant for more than 30 years.

What is out of line is the amount of paid time off city employees receive.

Starting in the first year, noncontinuous operations employees receive 174 hours per year of PTO plus 72 holiday hours. In years six, 11 and 16, PTO rises to 200, 224 and 240 hours per year, respectively.

Continuous operations employees (firefighters, police officers and bus drivers) do not receive holiday hours. However, they receive 260 hours of PTO per year starting the first year. In years six, 11 and 16, their PTO rises to 284, 308 and 324 hours per year, respectively.

Those hours translate to at least six weeks of paid time off for entry-level employees.

If the question before the council is how much is too much when it comes to city employee compensation, one thing is clear. When it comes to PTO, that much is too much.

To reach Rob Douglas, email


steve gadbois 3 years, 6 months ago

Hi Rob. Well written - HOWEVER, while it may seem that the amount of PTO earned by city staff (my personal experience is with Parks, Open Space and Recreation), seems exhorbitent, an interesting dynamic in the amount of PTO earned by individual city employee's, is the amount of PTO that these same employees SHARE with others who suffer some type of catastrophic illness or accident and do not have enough PTO to see them through their illness or accident. City staff are incredibly generous in transferring time that they know they will not personally use to others, who will suffer by not having enough time accumulated due to tenure. This may not be germain to the focus of your essay, which will, typically, generate a lot of discussion, but I thought it important for folks to know how generous city staff are with the PTO they earn and do not personally use, to help co-workers in need.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

So a city job becomes just that much more desirable because employees can give some of their generous number of paid time off hours to other employees. And so unlike probably any other job in the private sector, a person can remain on full pay when unable to work.

PTO is just part of the overall issue that most city jobs are well compensated local jobs and which any job openings quickly get a large number of highly qualified applicants. I strongly doubt that any jobs in city hall are underpaid. Jobs in the shop and such appear to be harder to fill and they can move to the same jobs locally in the private sector.


Kat Kelly 3 years, 6 months ago

As a city employee I would just like to say how much I love my job, the fellow city employees I have the pleasure to serve with and the citizens I have the honor to service everyday on and off the clock. As a city employee, you are never really off the job because you are a constant representation of the city and City Government. I have been the 1st face of City Planning for six years come November 19th and as a single mom, it is tough making ends meet, even with holding down three to four jobs, but at least with the time off I earn at the city I am able to take the time necessary to be at my kids sports and theatrical games and shows about 75% of the time. Professionals in Government positions usually accept a lessor salary then they could get in the private sector out of a desire to serve as well as the fact that Government Benefits more than likely are better than those in the private sector. I believe this is SOP for Government's so they can attract and keep some of the best Professionals in their fields to serve the citizens of the community. Let us not forget all city employees are also Citizen's of this Community!


Fred Duckels 3 years, 6 months ago

I have needed city services but the person in charge is on vacation. With this much time off the city should cross train so that services are available on a full time basis. The attitude seems to be that it is my tough luck when the person in charge is on vacation. Now am I inclined to back an already generous package.


jerry carlton 3 years, 6 months ago

"So just as proponents of higher pay shouldn't play salary leapfrog with other markets, those who think city workers are overcompensated shouldn't use comparisons to private sector wages and benefits that have been stagnant for more than 30 years." I mostly agreed with the article until the above sentence. What that this sentence says to me is private sector workers should be satisfied with what they had 30 years ago while continually paying higher taxes so government workers, city, county, state, and most of all federal, can have a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Examples: Detroit bankrupt, California bankrupt, PERA Colorado public employees retirement association grossly underfunded, Federal government totaly bankrupt.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

"Professionals in Government positions usually accept a lessor salary then they could get in the private sector ..."

That is frequently stated, but it is not at all clear whether that is still true. The private sector has undergone a remarkable level of productivity gains that has often allowed the companies to reduce the pay of various job functions and reduce staff.

Meanwhile, government has not been nearly as aggressive in redefining work flows to gain efficiencies. For example, why exactly is the city planning dept paying for someone to be a first face? Private market would probably not have that position. They would be more likely to have one front desk for all departments.

Governments have been shown to be far more concerned than private industry of whether their employees are being paid a "living wage". That is a political decision that can be justified as a values decision.


jerry carlton 3 years, 6 months ago

"What that this" Change to what this. Grammar police strikes again, this time against myself.


rhys jones 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott Ford revealed that the average government worker gets $500 more a month in pay alone, not including perks, than the average worker in the private sector... This article reveals that they get at least a month more paid vacation, across the board. This to squander our money on white-elephant real estate and architectural renderings of a ludicrous idea, pay raises across the board... While the private sector struggles to survive, they want more money and less work. Not to demean the clerical workers who are so friendly and helpful, but...

Cry me a river.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.