Employee pay to be a focus of upcoming Steamboat Springs budget hearings | SteamboatToday.com

Employee pay to be a focus of upcoming Steamboat Springs budget hearings

— The Steamboat Springs City Council again is poised to weigh some significant changes to the city’s employee pay scale in the upcoming budget season.

As they got a first glance at the 2014 budget Tuesday night, council members indicated the city’s proposed market-rate pay raises and a proposal to have city employees pay part of their health insurance plans for the first time will be big topics of discussion when budget hearings start Oct. 1.

Council member Kenny Reisman said he wants to have a "citywide conversation" about the plans to move some employees back to a 40-hour workweek and grant market pay raises to several employees for the first time in years.

"It’s a hard one to have, but it’s pretty helpful to have," he said.

The discussions will come a year after a comprehensive employee pay raise plan was passed over by the council after former City Manager Jon Roberts said it could be unsustainable in the long run.

The city now wants to bring its parks, Howelsen Hill and trails staff back to 40 hours per week along with some other employees.

Much of the recreation staff and administrative staff would stay at four-day workweeks.

As it works to better compensate employees who have gone years without pay raises, the city also is working to curb the rising cost of health insurance.

Council member Sonja Macys said she had concerns about the city’s plans this budget season to mitigate the rising cost of health insurance by raising deductibles and having city employees pay for part of their plans for the first time.

The city budgeted to spend about $2.4 million on health care in 2013, a 3 percent increase compared with 2012.

"If you’re going to be looking at charging employees more (for health insurance), I’d like to know how that affects people at lower incomes," Macys said. "I think it’s going to hurt people disproportionately, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that."

Other budget highlights include about $1 million of deferred maintenance, an additional engineer to help keep up with storm water infrastructure and a $1 million transfer to the city’s capital projects fund.

City officials stressed the budget they showed council was preliminary and subject to change before a more detailed version is presented Oct. 1.

City Manager Deb Hinsvark also reported the city currently is better off in its budgeting process this year than it was at the same time last year.

City staff is working to close a $325,000 shortfall in the current draft compared with a $942,000 shortfall last year.

In other action

Tuesday’s meeting was a long one, and council took a number of significant actions, including:

• Directing the city to dedicate $6,200 from its economic development fund to help create a new Steamboat Springs Energy Productivity fund. The fund could be used on "communitywide residential and commercial projects" that focus on reducing energy costs.

• Approving the second and final reading of the city’s ordinance that will regulate the use and sale of recreational marijuana.

• Coming to a compromise with developer Tom Fox regarding the vesting period for the Sunlight Subdivision he plans to develop near the Steamboat Springs Cemetery. Citing a still shaky economy and the project’s isolation from other development, Fox was requesting a 10-year vesting period for the project.

He said it was unique in that it is being built to attract blue-collar workers.

The city’s planning commission approved a six-year vesting period with a possible four-year extension.

After a lengthy discussion Tuesday, the City Council agreed to offer the project a seven-year vesting period with a possible three-year extension.

Prior to the vote, Jim Stanko, a member of the city’s cemetery board, expressed some concern about the project’s proximity to the cemetery and some drainage issues that already exist there.

Fox said he was working with the cemetery board to address and mitigate those concerns.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com