Eagle County tries to hold on to employees | VailDaily.com

Eagle County tries to hold on to employees

Chris Outcalt
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Some Eagle County officials are eyeing salary increases as a way to help decrease employee turnover.

County officials say market-driven wage increases have left some longtime county employees making less than recently hired staff. And the problem may be tied to employee turnover, said County Assessor Mark Chapin.

Chapin ” a member of the committee formed to fix the wage discrepancy problem ” said increasing the salaries of some of the government workforce could help lower the 18 percent average turnover rate in employees of Eagle County. Chapin said he’d like to see the group address what he called a high turnover rate.

“That’s the direction I’d like to go in ” limit turnover as much as possible,” Chapin said.

In the last five years, the county had the most turnover in 2007. Ninety-six new employees were hired that year; 17 were new positions and the rest were starting in jobs that already existed.

About 460 full-time workers are employed by the county. The county had 88 new faces in 2006, 69 in 2005, 63 in 2004 and 54 in 2003.

The number almost doubles each year if temporary and seasonal employees are included, according to Human Resources Director Nora Fryklund.

Commissioner Peter Runyon said decreasing the county’s turnover rate has always been an area of concern.

“Eighteen percent has been pretty steady for the last four years,” Runyon said. “It isn’t something new.”

Runyon said the number alarmed him when he first joined the board four years ago, but that resort communities are prone to higher turnover rates.

“If we were Arvada and had an 18 percent turnover rate, I’d be more concerned,” Runyon said. “It is the nature of a resort community that people come for one or two years.”

The group formed to fix the salary problem proposed using $2 million from the 2008 budget to increase the salaries of 35 percent of the county government workforce.

Making any salary adjustment would help turnover, Runyon said.

“Anything we do towards addressing a genuine ‘compression’ problem obviously is going to make for happier employees,” he said.

What the county needs to do is look at what an ideal turnover rate is, Runyon said.

Neighboring Garfield County averaged about an 18 percent turnover rate during the last five years.

But that’s changed recently, said Human Resources Director Katherine Ross.

“There’s been a sudden change with the poor economy,” Ross said. “We almost don’t have to recruit anymore.”

The average turnover rate in governments across Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield and Summit counties in 2007 was 20.4 percent, according to a survey done by the Mountain States Employers Council.

The council is a nonprofit organization that tracks labor statistics in Colorado.

The statewide average turnover rate for government jobs was 13.9 percent in 2007, according to the Mountain States report.

Having a high turnover rate could cost more in the long run than a salary fix, Chapin said.

“It’s very expensive to have turnover that’s high ” with bringing employees in and having to bring them up to speed and having to educate them,” Chapin said. “It’s more cost effective for any business to keep experienced employees in the payroll.”

The $2 million plan the salary committee presented to the commissioners would correct the salary “compression” problem over a two-year period.

“It’s certainly important to be consistent in public service,” said Chapin, who has worked for the county since 1991.

The poor economy has made it a hard time to talk about either topic, Chapin said.

“In light of the economy, it’s definitely difficult,” he said.

County Administrator Bruce Baumgartner recommended the commissioners include cutting five vacant positions proposed to be funded in the 2009 budget. The county also recently laid off two employees.

The cuts ” if approved by the commissioners ” could help the county with its salary discrepancy problem and turnover rate, Chapin said.

“Those types of changes have a positive impact on what we’re looking at with the ‘compression’ in not having to find new revenue,” Chapin said. “I empathize and hate to see people have to let go, but I think the positive side is recognizing that you don’t necessarily need to replace positions that are vacant.”

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

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