Our View: City Council gets it right
July 10, 2012
July 3, 2012: Steamboat Springs City Council votes down pay raises
July 2, 2012: Steamboat City Council to revisit pay raises
June 20, 2012: Pay raises for employees approved by Steamboat City Council
While it certainly wasn't a popular decision among city employees, the Steamboat Springs City Council got it right last week by reversing course from an earlier decision and voting against staff pay increases.
The most relevant issue is not whether city employees deserved raises but whether the city — i.e., taxpayers — could afford the plan put before the council. In the end, even City Manager Jon Roberts acknowledged that now is not the time for the city to make such a significant long-term investment in employee pay increases. Roberts and the five council members who voted down the pay raises deserve credit for realizing the potential harm to the city's budget if the compression and market-rate pay increases were approved as proposed.
Last week's council vote doesn't mean employee pay raises in some form aren't possible in the near-term. Council members agreed to revisit the issue in October during 2013 budget hearings, a much more appropriate time to consider the weighty budget impact of a two-part pay raise plan than during the middle of the fiscal year. And perhaps there's an opportunity for one-time bonuses that won't encumber future city budgets.
Council member Cari Hermacinski hit the nail on the head last Tuesday in Centennial Hall.
"Why is it an emergency that we need to solve this problem right now and pass an appropriations ordinance that makes it effective immediately?" she asked. "We're three months away from our 2013 budget."
There isn't an emergency when it comes to employee pay. There may be issues to be resolved but nothing so urgent as to require the substantial long-term increase in pay called for by the two-part plan. The first part seeks to address wage compression, which arises when new hires are brought in at salaries very close to those of veteran employees whose wages have been frozen for several years. As proposed, the compression raises would have cost taxpayers $1.05 million during the next 18 months.
The second round of pay increases would bring city employee pay in line with what similar Colorado communities pay their municipal workers. Those pay increases would have cost $800,000 this year and would grow by an estimated $300,000 annually.
Combined, the two parts of the plan would add significantly to the city's annual obligation to human resources costs. With a still shaky economy, it's not a responsible burden to take on. Good for the five City Council members who recognized that.