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El Paso County DA Dan May wants pay raise for staff one year after getting $30,000 boost

November 9, 2017 Updated: November 14, 2017 at 12:46 pm
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District Attorney Dan May with the 4th Judicial District in Colorado takes questions from the media after a hearing at in which accused Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Dear was found incompetent to stand trial in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

About a year after 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May got a roughly $30,000 raise, he's asking El Paso County for more money to pay his staff.

At a Thursday hearing on the county's 2018 budget, May told county commissioners he is struggling to retain employees because their pay is too low.

The turnover rate among his office's roughly 80 attorneys has reached 21 percent this year, he said. For the more than 20 investigators that work for him, turnover has soared to 34 percent.

Last year, the turnover rates for both positions hovered at about 12 percent, he said.

"Salary is the number one thing that affects my office," he said during a presentation.

The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 last December to approve a 17.5 percent pay raise for May, upping his salary to $215,000.

Commissioner Peggy Littleton, who cast the dissenting vote, said Thursday that May missed an opportunity to bump up the salaries of his employees when he accepted the increase.

"I believe that a general leads in the battle by sacrificing himself for his soldiers," she said in an interview. "I think he would have shown his loyalty to his employees if he would have taken the same amount of pay raise, percentage-wise, as the employees got, and distributed the other funds to his employees to increase their salaries."

DA's spokeswoman Lee Richards replied to an email asking for May's response to Littleton's criticism by saying she was unclear what was being asked. Richards did not respond to a subsequent phone message.

Under the state Constitution, county commissioners have no authority over other elected officials, such as DAs. The commissioners, however, approve budgets for other elected officials' departments, including pay raises.

When May received the raise, The Gazette reported his pay was higher than other DAs in Colorado, including Stan Garnett of Boulder County and George Brauchler, whose office serves Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. The highest-paid Colorado district attorney at the time was Mitch Morrissey, who previously headed the Denver County office and was paid $219,000.

May, the top prosecutor in El Paso and Teller counties, said Thursday his employees' pay lags behind those of similar positions in other counties, such as Jefferson, Denver and Adams.

Across El Paso County departments, turnover rates among staff have inched upward in recent years, from about 9.5 percent in 2010 to about 13.8 percent through October in 2017, county Chief Financial Officer Nicola Sapp said during the hearing.

The county is also struggling to make hires. "Top candidates for positions are declining offers," she said.

The County Public Works' highway division is losing staff members to construction companies that can pay higher salaries. Employees in the county's Information Technology Department, too, are abandoning their government careers for more lucrative jobs in the private sector; department has 74 positions, but it's been unable to fill 15 of those, Sapp said.

The county currently has 2,715 full-time employees. Personnel costs accounted for about 62 percent of the roughly $324 million 2017 budget, according to Sapp.

At a budget hearing on Nov. 16, she will present commissioners with options for boosting the 2018 salaries of county employees. The board is slated to adopt a final budget for next year on Dec. 12.

The hiring and retention struggles are not new, Sapp said. A 2015 study, commissioned to compare El Paso County's employees' salaries with those in similar positions at other governments up and down the Front Range, found that 810 county staff members were paid below the minimums of the ranges the study established for their positions. Some salaries were more than 32 percent below those minimums.

In 2016, the county doled out widespread pay raises to fix the issue and embarked on a mission to increase employee salaries incrementally until all positions are paid at least the median salaries of the ranges outlined in the study - a goal officials aim to meet in 2021 under a five-year plan.

May said his office's turnover rates were significantly lower last year because many of his employees had received considerable pay raises and were pleased with the county's planning efforts. He aims for a turnover rate of 10 percent to 12 percent, he said.

"We don't have the money sufficient to retain people who want to stay at DA's offices, who want to be dedicated to public service, who are willing to maybe not get paid what they would be in private practice just because it's important to them to do something that's important to the community," he said in an interview following the budget hearing.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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