Our View: City employees have earned a return to normalcy | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: City employees have earned a return to normalcy

We couldn't fail to notice this week the relative ease with which the Routt County Board of Commissioners gave county employees a raise in marked contrast to the ongoing struggles of the Steamboat Springs City Council to do something similar.

In case you missed it, after acting last year to restore a 5 percent pay cut its employees had endured since 2009, Routt County took another step late last month to catch up its employees on some of the salary schedule steps they missed. In addition, included in the 2014 budget is a two-point, cost-of-living bump to the salary schedule.

As all of that was taking place at the courthouse, just five blocks away, City Council had to delay approving its 2014 budget last week because of its inability to reach consensus on pay raises for city employees in spite of the fact that it has been debating the subject since June. City employees have been on partial furlough and haven't received a raise since the Great Recession.

We've observed that both groups — city and county employees — have held high standards of public service while adjusting their household budgets to live within reduced incomes. Of course, many private-sector residents of the city and county have had to do the same, and in numerous cases, the hardships have been greater. Still, city and county employees are to be commended and rewarded for holding up their end of the bargain.

We also acknowledge that the city and the county, because of their differing revenue models, are two different kinds of fiscal critters. The city relies primarily on sales tax while the county's main source of revenue is property taxes.

We urge City Council to take a lesson from the county's game plan and resolve its dilemma by restoring employee compensation in stages. It should begin by eliminating four-hour weekly furloughs (most city employees work 36 hours in four days) and put employees back on a five-day schedule. Or, if the lesson learned from the furlough is that the same amount of work its employees formerly did in 40 hours can be accomplished in less time, the city should trim its staffing accordingly.

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The second step for the city might be to provide a cost-of-living increase to its remaining employees while watching to see if the nation's modest economic recovery fully takes hold. In the meantime, the new City Council could continue to sort out how it feels about committing to a long-term expansion of its payroll that would result from raising salaries to make them "competitive" with those being paid by other mountain resort towns.

We understand the hesitancy of some council members who worry an attempt by Steamboat to keep up with the Eagle/Vail, Pitkin/Aspen and San Miguel/Telluride pay scales could become a continuous feedback loop that looks out for public servants ahead of taxpayers.

In June, we not only urged City Council to be cautious about advancing the city's overall pay scale but also advocated for merit-pay raises and a return to full-time employment writing:

"We think city employees should be compensated fairly and are deserving of merit-pay increases for a job well done. And while some employees have indicated a preference for four-day, 36-hour workweeks, we understand that it is necessary to offer 40-hour workweeks to remain competitive in recruiting and retaining employees."

Our views have not changed, and we would urge the new City Council to act promptly to reassure city staff members that their performance during the economic struggles of the past four years has not been taken for granted.

At issue

City Council’s inability to end furloughs and approve a modest pay increase

Our view

City employees and residents deserve a city that is open for business five days per week.

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