Pitkin County pay scale triggers debate
October 27, 2012
ASPEN – Two new positions in the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program won an informal thumbs-up from county commissioners this week, but the staffing request raised questions about whether county jobs pay too well.
The Open Space and Trails program, supported by a dedicated property tax, will add an administrative assistant and a land and trail manager to its staff starting next year, with the commissioners’ blessing. A seasonal post will be eliminated. The proposed budget allocation for the two new posts is $171,653, but that sum reflects more than the wages for the two jobs, County Manager Jon Peacock stressed, calling the total misleading.
It assumes that the new employees opt for the most expensive health insurance plan for a family, which costs about $29,000, and it includes payment into the county’s retirement plan, he said. The total also includes overhead costs such as computers.
The actual pay range for the land and trails manager is $49,608 to $71,905; the range for the administrative assistant is $35,193 to $51,000.
“It sounds like we’re starting with such a high base,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “Everyone says we’re in the new normal, but are we really acting in the new normal?”
“What makes a person who goes to work for Pitkin County more valuable than the person who works for the ski company for 25 years?” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “I can’t buy that public-sector employees are more valuable than private-sector employees.”
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Hatfield’s remarks triggered a clarification from Peacock.
Wages in county government are set with the help of comparisons to published data about what more than 300 other public and private sector employers are paying, he explained.
“I don’t want to leave our employees, the public or you with the impression we’ve established a privileged wage scheme for our employees,” Peacock said. “We are aiming for fair and competitive.”
Aspen and Pitkin County remain an expensive place to live despite the recession, added Commissioner Michael Owsley, defending the county’s wage scale.
“To talk about keeping wages down – that is a dead-end street around here,” he said. “I don’t see how talking about bringing down wages is fair to any employee at all.”
The county has 22 different pay grades into which positions are plugged based on the responsibilities and skill requirements of each job (there is a separate grade system for the Sheriff’s Office). Within each grade is a pay range. The lowest pay grade, for example, provides a range of $13.94 to $24 per hour.
Individual positions are routinely evaluated and adjusted within the pay scale as job requirements change, according to Stephen Pingree of the county’s Human Resources office. The county makes comparisons to other area counties and municipalities, as well as a couple of Front Range entities, as part of that process, he said.
Pay grades overall and the ranges within each grade haven’t been adjusted since 2008, Pingree said. The county is currently evaluating all of its positions with regard to their placement in the pay scale, according to Peacock.