Inside Vail’s $2.8 million plan to address staff compensation, benefits
Starting Feb. 1, the town will be rolling out changes to improve its positioning, competitiveness in job market
The town of Vail is getting ready to roll out a new compensation and benefits program and strategy in February.
“You have all heard from us the challenge of recruitment and retention in today’s very fast-changing environment,” said Krista Miller, the town’s director of human resources, at the Jan. 17 Town Council meeting.
Last year, the town of Vail tapped a consultant team from OneDigital to conduct an independent review and study of its compensation plan with the goal of creating a compensation philosophy that:
- Elevates its salary midpoints between the 65th and 75th percentile to align with the Vail brand
- Is effective in attracting, motivating and retaining employees
- Is based on data and annual evaluations of the market
- Is flexible and can respond to changing employee demographics
As summarized in a memo, the study is “intended to create a multi-year plan to reach compensation levels that are above the average of the market to help us encourage and motivate great performance, promote long service, and when we need to look outside, will attract candidates that fit our culture and can be great employees.”
The consultants from OneDigital presented their survey results and findings as well as their recommendations at the Tuesday, Jan. 17, Vail Town Council meeting.
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The plan was initially going to be rolled out in two phases, the first in 2023 and the second in 2024. However, given the current workforce environment as well as financial savings from 2022, the Town Council gave direction to staff to implement the plan in full during 2023.
Miller said that this direction from the council allows for a “quicker achievement of the compensation strategy and does not change the end result” of getting toward that 75th percentile.
The town is planning to implement this budgeted $2.8 million plan starting Feb. 1. The majority of the program’s cost is going to support salary increases, Miller said, adding that 20% of the monies are “allocated to cover related benefit costs.”
At a high level, the plan represents a shift in the town’s overall compensation and benefits philosophy. Now, the annual evaluation of salaries will take on a market-based approach that is more a “mathematical exercise (rather) than debating changes for individual positions every year,” said Town Manager Russ Forrest.
OneDigital not only compared the town of Vail to other Colorado towns but also to other resort communities and places with similar labor markets. Stacy Parker, presenting for OneDigital, said the town was, on average, doing “OK in terms of comparison to your current (salary) mid-point.”
“In terms of the marketplace, you were lagging a bit in terms of the median of the market, the 75th percentile of the market as well as the 75th percentile of your salary ranges,” Parker added.
For the town to achieve its goals, OneDigital had several recommendations. This includes increasing its internal minimum wage to $21.50 an hour as well as decreasing its number of salary grades from 22 to 10 and creating meaningful mid-point progressions between grades.
According to Miller, these grades come from “OneDigital’s work following a competitive benchmarking analysis and grouping positions into pay ranges by targeted market positioning.”
Generally speaking, Miller told the council that Grade 1 might represent frontline, entry-level town roles including its maintenance workers and some library staff. Then, progressing through the grades, Grade 3 would be more entry-level professional positions like planners, with Grade 4 moving into mid-level professional positions, and Grade 6 representing the “core of many managerial roles.”
Consolidating the number of grades “simplifies our compensation program and its administration, and broadening the ranges provides opportunities for employees to grow within their roles,” Miller said.
She added that the significance of this midpoint progression is to provide a difference between levels of employees, including between a supervisor and direct reports.
As a result of this, Miller said that “most employees will see a market or range adjustment” in the Feb. 1 implementation. However, because the final details are still being finalized, the town does not have an estimate for the average increase will be.
According to Linda Peavey, presenting for OneDigital, the town already ranks in the 68th percentile for benefits offered. For this reason, the approach recommended is to “find the things that you already do well” and “leverage those or use them more constructively in communications to help attract and retain people,” Peavey said.
Some of the town’s benefits that Peavey said were differentiators from its competitors included its retirement plan, its lifestyle fund, and some of its holiday and vacation pay policies.
Peavey added that there were other benefits the town could look at implementing to get a “wow factor.” Some ideas presented included items like linking rewards to health improvement, payment for opting out of medical insurance, repackaging education assistance and more.
Council member Travis Coggin expressed an interest in the town exploring some of these other benefits.
“No one is ever going to say I want less money, you’re just running down a rabbit hole of competing on a dollar-to-dollar basis, and it’s a race to the bottom,” Coggin said. “Figuring out ways to differentiate ourselves from a unique benefits package, I think that’s what will set us apart in a lot of ways.”
To this end, Miller said that the town has an internal employee group currently evaluating current and potential benefits. She added that the department would plan to come back to the council with a summary of these internal recommendations and possible implementations from the benefits study.