City of Aspen ups its wages across the board |

City of Aspen ups its wages across the board

Aspen City Council agrees to an increase of $1.75 million for employee compensation

Aspen City Council agreed on Tuesday to an increase of $1.75 million to cover pay increases for employees across the organization this year.

About $1.2 million was appropriated last fall as an estimate in this year’s budget after council received an analysis of the municipal government’s pay structure by compensation and classification consultant Segal Company.

But that estimate was created before any market analysis was started by Segal, according to Alissa Farrell, the city’s administrative services director.

Council agreed with her recommendation to implement a new pay plan, with the approval of an additional $550,000, which will result in an average wage increase of roughly $9,000 per full-time employee.

“When I look at where we’re at compared to the competitive market set, I am extremely concerned about retaining quality staff and I need the council’s help to address that through economic means to address the compensation side of it, and then we’ll still need to have a conversation around benefits and housing in the future,” City Manager Sara Ott said. “Are we going to pay people to be able to live in free-market housing here? Because that number is unaffordable for our local government if you want them living and working in our community, and so this plan takes into account the fact that we have mitigation opportunities.”

Those opportunities come in the form of subsidized units in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, and the city’s own deed-restricted properties and down payment assistance program.

The pay plan council agreed to is part of the city’s total compensation philosophy, which was adopted last year and is designed to reduce turnover, as well as increase the ability to attract and retain employees and ensure equitable pay, parity in jobs, highly competitive pay and career advancement opportunities.

Data through exit interviews shows that approximately 50% of staff left the city because of pay so far this year.

The city’s turnover rate in the past five years has fluctuated between 10.4% and 14.9%, which is considered high when compared with other municipalities.

“How do we keep us from having attrition levels that are too detrimental to the community?” Ott asked. “I would argue we are seeing tons of retirements; we’re seeing folks finding higher paying jobs.”

The $1.75 million that council agreed to only covers 2022, so elected officials will have to consider continual increases in future years.

Mayor Torre asked if there were alternatives to dispersing all the money at once and if phasing was a possibility.

Ott said that’s not a desirable way to approach it given what the city’s total compensation philosophy attempts to achieve.

“Generally, funding is the limiting factor to the implementation plan, so an employer prefers to avoid multi-year implementation if possible because you are doing this for retention and recruitment,” Ott said. “Therefore, if you phase it over multiple years, those salaries will still take those number of years to hit your total compensation philosophy.”

Councilman John Doyle said the pay increases are appropriate given the cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“In my time here in town it seems like employees used to take a cut in pay just for the benefit of being able to live here, and a lot of that was due to they had a lot of housing options,” he said. “I realize the challenges of living here and I think this is appropriate to be able to retain employees like we’re trying to do.”