The Grand County Council struggled to incorporate the last-minute results of a salary survey into their 2018 budget.
The survey said that many employees were underpaid, but instead of implementing wide-ranging salary raises or a cost-of-living adjustment, the county council decided to institute a $14-per-hour minimum to take care of the lowest-paid employees in the county. The $14-per-hour raise was meant to be a stopgap solution as the county council decides what constitutes fair compensation and how that can be implemented. However, the $14-per-hour raise has created compression issues where longtime employees in low-level positions are being paid the same as new hires.
Compression means that wages or salaries are the same for both recent and long-term hires — and includes employees who have more responsibility that make the same wage as lower-skill positions. The new county pay schedule creates this problem, according to Grand County Library Director Carrie Valdes.
She presented the issue to the council at a workshop on Feb. 20. Valdes also said that the $14-per-hour raise, combined with a rule in the Grand County employee handbook that gives a three percent raise to employees as they work through the county’s pay-for-performance program, left her unsure whether to give the standard three percent raise to employees who were now making $14 per hour.
“I am not advocating that the council adopt any of the charts before you. I am simply saying where I have things that are coming up rather quickly that I don’t know the answer to,” Valdes said.
Other department heads spoke during the meeting as well.
Grand County Jail Commander Veronica Bullock said that she has faced similar issues at the jail.
“It’s not just the compression issue there,” Bullock said. “My dispatchers that are mandated to have certifications are now making 60 cents more than a librarian assistant ... As a director, what do you tell them? What’s the answer to some of our employees who have been here [a long time] and are now making as much as a new hire?”
Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells said that the problems were “growing pains” that the council hoped to resolve this year. County Information Technology Director Matt Ceniceros suggested that employees continue to make $14 per hour as they move up through the steps of the pay-for-performance program, but that once the council makes final decisions about employee compensation, employees who advanced through the program without getting a raise get a special review and retroactive compensation based on the county’s new evaluation of their positions.
Council Member Jaylyn Hawks supported the idea of a special review as “a good idea and a way to move forward.”
Hawks supported the idea of having an agenda item at a future council meeting specifying that, “those [employees] who are going through the [pay for performance] process continue that and know that when the final, long-term solution is reached, that they will be specially reviewed and compensated accordingly and retroactively.” The issue will appear on the council agenda at their first meeting in March.
Ceniceros mentioned the low employee morale that the county has had since the contentious budget process. Bullock added that employees felt “dismissed and disrespected.”
Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann sought to change that perception.
“As the chair, I would tell your employees that they are valued and they are appreciated and the county runs because of them. Speaking for myself ... I thank them,” McGann said.
Ceniceros asked what the timeline would be for council decision about employee compensation.
Wells said that the new budget advisory board positions should be filled by mid-March. By the end of April, “we will be way … into the next year’s budget,” Wells said.