New Steamboat City Council members poised to have big impact on employee pay, police station funding
October 30, 2013
Steamboat Springs — There won’t be a honeymoon.
That’s what Scott Ford is saying as he prepares to start his Steamboat Springs City Council career next month.
Just minutes after Ford is sworn in Nov. 12 alongside either Tony Connell or Clark Davidson, Ford and the other new member will have to help a deeply divided council reach a consensus on a proposed employee pay raise plan and the potential of the city spending $2.5 million next year on a new police station.
And because the current City Council on Tuesday night failed to pass a first reading of the 2014 budget because of a lack of consensus on the city’s pay raise plan, the two new council members suddenly are poised to greatly influence the budget outcome.
"I’m looking forward to it," Ford said. "I think we’re all going to do the right thing and come to a compromise. It’s just going to take some more work."
Connell and Davidson also are excited by the unexpected opportunity to have a big say on the budget.
With all three prospective council members saying Wednesday that they aren’t ready to allow the city to budget $2.5 million on the station in 2014, that funding is now in jeopardy.
Council members Walter Magill and Sonja Macys, along with outgoing member Cari Hermacinski, on Tuesday night tried unsuccessfully to remove the funding.
Their effort was defeated by a majority of council members who wanted the funding to stay on the table so the police station project could move forward without any delay.
But the two new council members could create a new majority against the expenditure for the time being.
"I’m not going to say it shouldn’t be a high priority, but I’m not willing to commit $2.5 million in this fiscal year," Connell said Wednesday. "It needs to be done with due diligence. (The fire department) needs to be part of the discussion."
Davidson said the city was "putting the cart before the horse" by budgeting the $2.5 million next year.
Ford also said he’d like to see the project slowed down.
"If you address police and you haven’t addressed fire, where are we?" he asked. "It’s going to be the largest single capital expenditure the city has ever made. I’m not saying delay it forever but be diligent."
Ford and the other new council member also will dive into what has been a contentious council debate over the city’s plan to spend $738,000 next year on salary and benefit increases meant to bring employees up to a market wage.
The raises also seek to rectify an issue called compression that exists when a veteran employee is making a comparable wage to a new hire.
At an election forum earlier this month, Connell and Davidson revealed they had some different views when asked if they supported the city’s proposed pay raise plan.
Connell said looking at comparable communities and arriving at a percentage raise might not be the best approach.
"I do believe there are some market-rate increases that should be done," Connell said. "But … going position by position and looking at only mountain towns is probably not the way to go."
He said the city should instead set its personnel costs as a certain ratio of its general fund revenue.
Asked about the pay raise plan at the forum, Davidson was more supportive of the city’s proposed raises than Connell.
"I think a vast amount of city employees deserve raises," Davidson said. "I don't think they need to be jumped up a lot — it should be done over time. City employees in some departments make plenty,” others not.
He said Wednesday that he sees room for a "quick, easy compromise" on the pay plan.
Ford said he plans to discuss and critique the data behind the city’s proposed pay plan.
For one, he said the city shouldn’t look outward to cities like Durango and Eagle to establish a market wage for its employees.
“The market is not Eagle County,” he said. “It is the greater metro area of Steamboat Springs and Routt County.”
Learn more about the City Council candidates at SteamboatToday.com/election.