Routt County officials confront the complexity of finding a good match for salary survey
April 10, 2014
Steamboat Springs — 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.
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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.