Eagle County: Concerns rise over valley salaries | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Concerns rise over valley salaries

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Getting pay raises year after year is a good thing, right?

Maybe not, according to some area employers, including Eagle County and the Town of Vail.

Competition for workers in a limited labor pool mean that salaries and benefits have been going up in general, but how long can employers continue to afford their workers?

Some of the largest employers in the county, including Eagle County, the school district, the hospital and the town of Vail said they are discussing the problem and planning for the future.

The area’s labor pool is shrinking as the workforce ages and some employees are being pulled to other counties, said John Power, human resources director for the Town of Vail.

Because of that and the rising costs of living in the area, base salaries and benefits have been going up at least 5 percent each year, he said.

“The question is, ‘Can that be sustained over a period of years?’ We’re trying to figure out what it’s all going to cost,” he said.

Something is going give, either in salaries or number of employees, said County Commissioner Arn Menconi.

“An organization can’t have both more people and rising salaries,” he said.

He thinks the pinch could create a situation where employers simply start “poaching” employees from each other.

It is also difficult to hire workers from outside of the county because many would be taking a cut in pay or downgrade in lifestyle, Commissioner Sara Fisher said.

According to the Mountain State Employers Council in Denver, Eagle County pays slightly under the average after cost of living is adjusted.

“Most people do take a pay cut to live here,” County Finance Director John Lewis said.

The situation has the county rethinking its salary policy and staffing.

For example, one vacated position in the Health and Human Services Department did not get filled, Lewis said.

Instead, the responsibilities were dispersed among other employees.

Fisher cautioned that the discussion does not mean employers are planning to fire employees or slash wages. “It doesn’t necessarily mean reductions (in pay) or dramatic changes,” she said.

In fact, the county wants to find a way to keep quality employees and offer competitive wages while watching costs, she said.

“But if we don’t increase (salaries), and keep the pay competitive to job skills, we’ll lose employees. Other agencies may be offering more,” she said.

County employees have received a 5 percent pay raise to adjust for cost of living over the last few years, but the county does not have a merit raise or bonus system, Lewis said.

“Obviously the amount of increase that has happened over the past couple years cannot continue,” Lewis said. “If it’s a bad snow year or property revenue dips, then what will we do?”

The county has already had trouble hiring people for vacant positions at the current salaries, he said.

Another difficulty is being able to afford and have the workers to provide services for a growing town, Power said.

“We have an increasing demand to keep up service to the public, but at the same time we need to keep costs in line,” he said.

Some employers have turned to more innovative solutions, such as Vail Resorts hiring Australian seasonal workers as bus drivers, Lewis said.

Other solutions might include finding ways to be more efficient with the same number of employees through the use of technology or restructuring. Reducing turnover rates also helps save on salary costs, employers said.

The problem is both in the private and public sector and in every type of job, from entry level to highly skilled positions, Power said.

“It’s not an emergency right now, but it’s a problem that’s looming. It’s always prudent to prepare,” he said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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