Steamboat Springs City Council fails to pass 1st reading of budget after debate over employee pay raises | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs City Council fails to pass 1st reading of budget after debate over employee pay raises

Editor’s note: This story was corrected to make clear that Sonja Macys, Cari Hermacinski and Walter Magill voted against spending $2.5 million next year on a new police station.

The city employees who traveled to Citizens Hall on Tuesday night hoping to learn the fate of the city's proposed employee pay raise plan didn't get an answer from a Steamboat Springs City Council still deeply divided over the proposal.

Instead, they watched the council wrestle extensively over the plan and then fail to pass a first reading of the city's 2014 budget.

The impasse means the two new council members who are sworn in Nov. 12 will help pick back up the discussion.

Some current council members clearly were frustrated by the inaction Tuesday night.

"It bothers me that you don't have the information you need to make this decision," Sonja Macys told her fellow council members at the end of the long debate. "It seems like every time we get together, another piece of information is needed. We keep sending (city staff) to get more information (about employee compensation), and we're still not moving forward."

Macys and two other council members were ready to embrace the salary and benefit increases for the employees who city staff said are being underpaid compared with their counterparts in other cities.

A recent survey conducted by the city showed the salaries of several professional groups in the city were significantly off their market value.

The city wants to spend $738,000 in salary and benefit increases to rectify that.

"I think we've gone too long with not meeting market with our pay plan," council member Scott Myller said at the end of the contentious debate. "I'm willing to vote for this thing and keep our finger on it and make Deb (Hinsvark) keep her finger on it, too."

At his final meeting as a council member, Kevin Kaminski also was ready to approve the budget as is.

"People are our No. 1 asset," he said. "Pay them for what the market value is."

But at least four council members weren't comfortable with the salary increases as presented.

Walter Magill said the price tag was too high.

Kenny Reisman wanted the city to develop a broader pay plan before committing the funds to raises.

Bart Kounovsky said he was frustrated the council didn't have all of the information it needed in the public forum to make the decision.

And outgoing council member Cari Hermacinski suggested the city should develop a new policy that ties personnel costs to a certain proportion of the sales tax revenue or the general fund.

"We have a sustainable plan here, right here, right now," City Manager Deb Hinsvark said in response to the council criticism.

She said the market wage increases were part of a pay plan that wouldn't guarantee any raises in future years but instead would put in place salary ranges based on what government employees are making in other cities comparable to Steamboat.

She added the proposal was in line with the fiscal policies the council adopted this year that call for the city to budget 95 percent of the sales tax revenue and have the rest go into reserves.

Council's debate about the plan is a clash between some members who think it is time to better compensate employees who have sustained years of furloughs and frozen salaries and other members who value those employees but think the raises need to be weighed against other factors such as the fact the economy still is in recovery mode and city employees have generous paid time off plans.

The debate turned sour early when Reisman seemed surprised that there were no proposed changes to the plan even after Hinsvark in recent weeks met with several council members individually for feedback.

"Everyone had some different ideas," Hinsvark said. "As far as the compensation plan itself, I didn't get any direction from this council to make any changes."

Hermacinski said she was concerned about Hinsvark's individual meetings with the council members about the plan.

She also was critical of the fact that some new information the council had requested on employee compensation, including more specifics on the cost of turnover and the scope of paid time off plans, was given to the council prior to Tuesday's meeting but not to the public.

Hinsvark apologized for not having the information included in Tuesday's agenda packet.

Tuesday night was the second time in two years this council has wrangled over employee pay raises.

Last year, the body voted down a separate set of proposed pay raises for employees after it determined the raises might not be financially sustainable.

The compensation plan wasn't the only thing holding up the budget Tuesday.

Council members Macys, Hermacinski and Magill voted against spending $2.5 million next year on a new police station.

Their motion did not pass.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10