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County OKs pay increases

PITKIN COUNTY Pitkin County is not paying its workers enough, and employees are not sticking around, according to county-hired human resources consultant Victoria McGrath.At a Pitkin County commissioners work session on Tuesday, McGrath presented her study about the county’s employment woes, saying workers are being lured by higher-paying jobs at the city of Aspen or Eagle County.Commissioners approved a $90,000 stopgap measure for increased salaries and said they would continue to discuss the issue.”There’s something wrong … something out of whack,” McGrath said.With the high cost of living in or near Aspen and the prospect of a long commute from bedroom communities downvalley, the county sees a 17 percent employee turnover rate – far higher than the 5 percent national average for usually stable government jobs, McGrath said.”More and more people are leaving because of compensation,” McGrath said.There is an 8 percent vacancy rate in the Pitkin County worker pool – 19 jobs out of 230 are open, with positions ranging from heavy equipment operators to custodians, mechanics, administrative assistants and engineers, McGrath said.While Pitkin County pays the average market salary for most positions, the city of Aspen pays 30 percent above the average, McGrath said. And because city and county employees often share office space and compare salaries, many county workers seek higher pay elsewhere, she added.The starting salary for a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy, for example, is $41,000, while a rookie in the Aspen Police Department earns $48,000, McGrath said.”If there’s a $6,000 difference, people go to the city,” McGrath said. And if downvalley salaries are comparable, many government workers choose jobs closer to their homes in places like Carbondale or in Eagle County.”You are not attracting qualified employees to come here. You’ve got to close the gap,” McGrath told county officials.”I’ve personally been embarrassed by Pitkin County – by the salaries we offer,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.”The most important resources we have are human,” Braudis said, adding that his department gets by without special gear – patrol boats on Ruedi Reservoir, for example – but that salaries are vital to the kind of services county residents demand. Braudis asked commissioners to raise taxes and salaries.”I say it’s time,” he said.Commissioner Patti Clapper said happy employees are the priority. But while the report recommends increased salaries, better benefits and finding affordable housing for county employees, Clapper asked, “How are we going to do it all?” “We do not have the resources that municipal governments have – especially Aspen,” Clapper said.McGrath recommended bringing salaries up to market range and offering merit-based incentives for longtime employees. Commissioners agreed to the $90,000 increase that will raise county employees’ salaries up to the market average. And, based on job performance, long-term employees can collect as much as a 5 percent increase on the average salary for their job.”It’s a very conservative approach,” McGrath said of Tuesday’s approval, adding that employees in government positions in other parts of the country can expect as much as a 15 percent increase on the market average. But McGrath called the approval a good first step toward closing the gap between the county and its competition.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.


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