City of Aspen looks to establish employee compensation philosophy
It’s been seven years since city has compared compensation packages for municipal employees
The city of Aspen is embarking on an organization-wide compensation study that will determine whether the over 320 municipal employees are paid adequately, and if the established pay scale is enough to attract and retain workers.
Aspen City Council members heard during their work session Tuesday a presentation by representatives with Segal Company, an outside consultant hired by the city for $90,000 to conduct the study and prepare a report.
Council members gave direction for consultants to consider the unique challenges that Aspen presents, including the high cost of housing and living.
“If we have to compensate people for free-market housing, like a studio right now is $3,500, $4,000 per month and most people have families that can’t live in a studio,” Councilman Skippy Mesirow said. “That’s really the elephant in the room, and I hope your team can come up with some magic to meet that reality.”
Mesirow said the city can afford to be a high compensation municipality, and should focus on big bonuses and incentives for individuals who work on innovative projects that lead to building legacies in their careers.
“I want us to be like the place that you want to go if you want to leave a mark in interesting stuff,” he said. “We should be like the MIT of municipalities.”
City Manager Sara Ott told council that Tuesday’s discussion was a philosophical one that goes beyond salaries.
“What is the social contract that we’re creating as part of our hiring process and our philosophy about how we decide how to pay and who do we compare ourselves to in deciding how to pay?” she asked. “This has sort of been a place where I don’t think there’s been transparency with previous councils around this process quite frankly, and I think we could do a better job in communicating it with employees.”
The final product will include a total compensation philosophy as a written statement about the organization’s total rewards, benefits and compensation strategies.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said the philosophy and the implementation of the policy should embody the city and council’s goals.
Compensation packages should be all encompassing, she added.
“Assist people with housing, child care, provide opportunities for them to volunteer within the community,” Mullin said. “A benefits package that is put together that really supports a healthy community and addresses the problems and the challenges that we’ve seen for our employees.”
Thus far, Segal has collected departmental organizational charts, compensation policies and procedures, city housing guidelines and compensation plans.
Job descriptions are being updated and completed internally for Segal to review.
A city-wide employee compensation opinion survey was conducted in April, with a response rate of 68%. Additionally, Segal completed one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders throughout the organization.
Segal will next be meeting with a steering committee made up of a cross section of city employees to discuss the feedback and data obtained so far.
Their recommendations will be reviewed by Ott and then brought forward to council in June.
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