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Town to boost some employee salaries

Staff Writer

In order to give additional pay raises to certain town employees, the Pagosa Springs Town Council voted Tuesday to take $33,000 out of the general fund reserves and $7,500 out of the capital fund reserves.

“In February,” council member Tracy Bunning began, “a group of us started meeting on a weekly schedule and tried to come up with a recommendation that we could make to the town council in regard to this salary compensation issue.”

The issue arose in October 2012, when the town hired Mike Swallow with Personnel Systems & Services to complete a salary survey of town employees compared to other towns, counties and private business in and around Pagosa Springs.

Swallow’s report concluded that, with a few exceptions, Pagosa Springs’ town employees were not being adequately compensated when compared to others who do similar jobs. The report was presented around the same time Phil Starks quit as the director of the Pagosa Springs Sanitation and General Improvement District in order to take a better paying job in Cortez.

However, the report also came in the middle of budget season, when the council was embroiled in a number of heated discussions on how to trim spending.

Town council soon divided into two camps, with council member Darrel Cotton arguing it is inappropriate for government employees to make more money and to have a better benefits package than the taxpayers who support them. Bunning agreed.

On the other hand, council member Kathie Lattin wanted to make sure town employees were fairly compensated and feared more town employees would leave Pagosa to find better jobs. Councilor Don Volger agreed with her, and at one point the debate between Bunning and Volger became quite heated.

At the time, town council was unable to resolve the impasse concerning the validity of Swallow’s report. However, members did agree to give all town employees a 7-percent cost-of-living increase (town employees had not received a raise in over four years), and to table the rest of the discussion until after budget season.

In February, Mayor Ross Aragon assigned Cotton, Bunning, Volger and David Schanzenbaker to a subcommittee that would conduct further research into the findings in the survey, determine which parts were valid and which weren’t, and bring a recommendation back to council.

“We found it difficult to separate the public and private sectors as far as these jobs are concerned,” Bunning explained. “That was one of the biggest issues we wrestled with, and when it came down to the end, the consensus of the group is the proposal that you find before you this evening.”

Each council member had a copy of the new “Pagosa Springs Pay Grade/Salary Range” table in a packet. It contained 30 pay grades, and for each one there was a salary minimum, midpoint, and maximum, ranging from $21,635 to $108,677.

“There are a number of elements to this, not least of which, of course, is the increase in salaries, which amounts to $33,000 out of the general fund reserves for the balance of 2013, beginning with the pay period of June 29 of this year,” said Bunning.

Bunning went on to highlight other aspects of the subcommittee’s recommendations. These included the need to evaluate the cost of living on an annual basis and to make appropriate adjustments to the entire table, the need to do employee evaluations every year, and the need to establish criteria for awarding merit raises to employees who perform their jobs at an exceptional level.

“Not everybody was in agreement on how we should proceed,” Volger added, “but at the end of all of our discussions, we’ve come up with something fair. It will be beneficial for all of the employees and it is justifiable for the public.

“For the last few years that I have been involved in budgeting, I have hated going into those meetings and trying to wrestle with issues, and the primary issue I hate wrestling with is salaries. By having this system in place, we won’t have to do that this year, and hopefully in future years it will be much simpler.

“I hope all of our employees, if they’re not overly thrilled with what we’ve worked out, will at least accept it. There will be some who are very thrilled with the increases they will be receiving. I’m pleased that we were able to move this forward.”

“I’m not sure I had as much fun as you did,” Schanzenbaker joked with Volger, “but it was an informative process, for sure. The one thing I wanted to point out is we concluded the survey was valid. We double-checked the justification for the salary ranges and we were not able to find any information to tell us those numbers were off. We did do a slight downward adjustment to the salary grade scale, but it was fairly minor.”

“Suffice it to say, this wasn’t unanimous,” Cotton interjected, “and we will leave it at that. To take nothing from the balance of the committee — they did some good, hard work — I just don’t agree with their conclusion.”

In an interview before the meeting, Volger explained to SUN staff that the adjustment being discussed that night would only affect a handful of town employees because when the town enacted the 7 percent cost-of-living increase at the beginning of the year, it actually bumped most employees into the acceptable salary range for their job description. It was mostly new positions, such as those created when the community center opened, that were not properly researched at the time and that needed adjustment.

In the end, Bunning made the motion to approve taking money from reserves to raise certain salaries starting in June. Volger seconded the motion, and everyone, except Cotton, voted “Yes.”

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on May 9, 2013.