Routt County officials confront the complexity of finding a good match for salary survey

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— In late February, the Routt County Board of Commissioners asked its committee assigned to define the parameters for a new salary survey for rank-and-file county workers to come up with a detailed report.

So that’s just what the commissioners got March 8.

The commissioners found out in the process of studying a detailed survey of demographic data for all 64 Colorado counties this week that it’s not easy to find a mountain resort county that compares closely to Routt, even when they looked at counties that were home to ski resorts.

Eagle has more populous bedroom communities, Pitkin’s housing prices are skewed more heavily by mountain mansions and Summit has more ski areas.

“We’re a ski county that’s a different flavor,” county Finance Director Dan Strnad said succinctly.

And the basis for adjusting pay scales could vary from an emphasis on the relative cost of living in Routt, to the size of the county and the number and variety of services provided by county employees.

The commissioners seemed to agree on the latter Tuesday when they decided to focus on nine Colorado counties of similar population as a guide for the new salary survey. It’s intended to support recruitment and retention of employees by checking to see that current salaries aren’t out of line with the competition.

The other counties include Summit, Eagle, Broomfield, Garfield, Park, Pitkin, Elbert Mineral and Lake.

The median home value in Routt County is $407,700, in Pitkin County it’s $630,000 and in Lake County — home to many workers in neighboring Eagle — the median home price is $163,800, meaning half of the available homes are priced lower.

Among the county employees participating on the preliminary survey committee are Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager Dave Ruppel, receptionist Rachel Lundy, Human Resources Director Chris Hensen, Finance Director Strnad, Human Services Director Vickie Clark, Road and Bridge Assistant Director Mike Mordi and Sheriff’s Lt. Doug Scherar.

Ruppel was assigned by County Manager Tom Sullivan to lead the committee. And in February, Ruppel suggested to the commissioners that they consider retaining a consultant. He mentioned that La Plata County (county seat Durango) had used a consultant for its 2013 survey, which included Routt in its list of comparable counties.

However, Board of Commissioners President Tim Corrigan responded at the time, “You’re looking at your consultant.”

Ruppel suggested a consultant again this week, and Sullivan also was leaning toward using a consultant. He pointed that Hensen is intimately familiar with job descriptions in the county but added that she has way too much “on her plate” to actually conduct the survey.

Since February, Strnad has supported the committee with some demographic research. He concluded that the cost of child care is one of the most significant factors in determining whether local families can stretch one or two salaries to do more than just make ends meet.

“When you have a kid in this county, you’re (living) in one of the most expensive counties in the state,” Strnad told the commissioners.

He was basing his comments on the 2011 Self Sufficiency Standard for Colorado families of varying makeups published by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Already three years out of date, it reported that a household comprising two adults and one pre-schooler in Eagle County can be self-sufficient with an annual income of $63,383. The same family living in Lake County could get by on $51,039, and the number in Routt County is $60,965.

When a family grows to include two children, one pre-schooler and one infant, the threshold for sustainable incomes rises significantly to $80,711 in Eagle, $61,221 in Lake and $78,818 in Routt.

The county commissioners and members of the committee are expected to meet again, at a date to be determined, to refine their plans for the salary survey.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Self-sufficiency in Colorado ski counties

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Only government is so reliant upon salary surveys to set pay scales. And miraculously, they nearly always suggest local employees should get pay raises.

Private industry is far more interested in looking at the quality of job applicants and their wage demands that a salary survey. Salary is only part of the total compensation package which includes quality of life, job stability and so on.

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 3 weeks ago

In past decades working for the government provided security but the overall pay package was not that good. This has escalated due to many factors and today it costs 45% more to hire a gov. worker than private sector employee. The future looks worse yet. Since gov. work is not competitive I see the need to develop accurate cost accounting and compare in house work compared to outsourcing. If the county establishes itself as a buyer over the long run it will command very low prices. I have observed govs. doctoring numbers to maintain the status quo and getting accurate cost data will be like pulling teeth. This will provide some comparison which is better than having the fox guard the hen house.

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Scott Wedel 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Well, government has some pressure of controlling costs in one area so it can be spent in another area.

SB snow removal with their disciplined routes is between 3 and 4 times more cost effective in terms of miles of street cleared per hour per plow driver than Oak Creek where they drive around looking for snow to move and may never do it the same way twice. SB snow removal is very efficient and they want to be efficient because the more spent on snow removal means the less available to spend on summer concerts. etc :-) But Oak Creek uses the same public works employees for everything and so there is no direct savings if snow removal or anything else is done efficiently. It would give them time to work on other issues, but being inefficient isn't a direct cost affecting other budgets so it is tolerated.

But I am pretty sure Fred Duckels does not pay for salary surveys to see how his pay compares to similar companies in Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison or Lake counties.

The structural challenge affecting fairly paying government workers is that government workers vote in elections and can be a substantial highly motivated voting bloc affecting elections. So elected officials are under constant pressure to cater to government employees in order to get reelected.

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Scott, The bidding table is the ultimate survey and if I am not efficient I will go broke or I will not get any work, same difference.

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Scott Wedel 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Fred,

Yeah, I was trying to make the point that private industry generally and probably including you does not use a salary survey to determine what you should pay your employees. I'd guess you are keeping an eye on why employees are leaving and how skilled at what pay rates you see in job applicants to tell you if your wages are out of line.

If an employee did their own salary survey and told you that a construction company in Pitkin was paying $8 more an hour, but their cost of living was 6% higher and therefore you should increase wages by $5 an hour to be equal then would you give that pay raise?

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Employees are paid by market forces. If they can generate profits for the company they are in a good bargaining position. If not they may need to look at public employment, accountability is essential in the private sector if a business is to succeed.

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mark hartless 3 months, 2 weeks ago

"Well, government has some pressure of controlling costs in one area so it can be spent in another area."

Yeah... so does a bank robber...

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 2 weeks ago

The ever widening gap between public and private pay is not sustainable. If that discussion is not had we are fooling someone.

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 2 weeks ago

I don't know how to link this article about PERA in the Denver Post by Vince Caroll but this should be addressed in any discussions. PERA and the Democrats have set 7.5 to 8.0 % as reasonable returns on pensions. In reality this is the same old symbiotic relationship that they have with unions/ public employees that is a black hole under our feet. Setting expectations this high is only a wet dream but it keeps the Democrats in power and the culprits will be long gone from office when the chickens come to roost. I would like to see our commissioners go on record demanding accountability on this corruption. Any discussions about compensation should include more input than that of government employees bantering inbred data to achieve a goal. I'm not for or against anything but a real discussion is in order here.

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 2 weeks ago

By the way the taxpayers are guaranteeing this wet dream debacle and our majority in the state house want to very much keep it quiet. Suppose Dianne will discuss this at her next outreach? What are the odds of winning the lottery?

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Scott Wedel 3 months, 2 weeks ago

http://www.denverpost.com/Opinion/ci_25546111/Carroll:-Colorado-lawmakers-pass-on-PERA

The opinion piece understates the severity of PERA's underfunding because PERA is only 64% funded and yet projects an unlikely high rate of return that understates funding needs if the actual rate of return is lower. Ie PERA will be more severely underfunded if they cannot average 7.5% annual return.

I wonder if the politicians are too afraid to propose a solution and are expecting a citizen initiative to put the solution on the ballot.

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Fred Duckels 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Lest the employees get their lower lip down the PERA gold mine that they are sitting on should be explained and you and I are the guarantors of this boondoggle.

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Scott Wedel 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Though, since Colorado allows initiatives that modifies the state constitution then any guarantee can be relatively easily removed.

And the situation isn't hopeless since the liabilities include obligations 30 years in the future. So a modest increase in contributions and tightening rules on pay out levels (not allowing tricks of allowing taking accumulated vacation and sick level as a cash payment to artificially inflate the retirement salary level used to calculate pension benefits) can probably fix it.

But the more they do nothing the bigger the hole until it becomes cost prohibitive to try to fill.

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jerry carlton 3 months, 2 weeks ago

We took my wife's money out of PERA as soon as she was eligible and put it into an IRA. I also took my money out of the Washington State retirement system when we left there and put it into my IRA. Look into the Illinois state retirement system to see what happens when the chickens come home to roost. Cleveland retirees are probably not in too good of shape either.

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