Colorado Springs City Council delays vote on new city salaries

By Monica Mendoza Published: September 10, 2013 | 10:10 pm 0

Colorado Springs city employees waited 18 months for the results of a compensation study. Now, they will wait two more weeks for the study, with new salary ranges, to be finalized.

Council was set to vote Tuesday on a set of ordinances that would have listed new salary ranges for civilian employees, approved raises for some employees retroactive to April 1, and approved a new personnel policies and procedures manual.

But council unanimously voted to delay its decision until Sept. 24. As part of the ordinances the council was asked to approve salary ranges for various job descriptions. Council had been told that typically only 5 percent of city employees will ever go over the top of the range.

City Councilman Don Knight wants that in writing. Otherwise, he said, the city could find itself in a world of trouble if every employee crested the top of the salary range.

His questions touched off a slightly heated exchange between council members and human resources director Mike Sullivan, who told the council the city's civilian employees had been waiting long enough for news on their salaries.

"Frankly, I'm disappointed," Sullivan said.

The results of 18 months of study and two outside consultants showed that Colorado Springs pays its civilian employees 1 percent, on average, below the market - and that includes comparison to private-sector jobs. Of the city's 1,100 civilian employees, 47 were slated to get a raise if council had approved the ordinances. The raises would have brought up their salaries to match the going market rate for their job descriptions. In addition, 371 employees were slated to receive a raise after taking into account their experience on the job.

Knight said he met with Sullivan on Monday and thought "we had a gentlemen's agreement" to hold off on the council vote until wording in the ordinance could be added that would only allow a maximum of 5 percent of employees to crest the top of the pay range.

"OK, they've been waiting for 18 months," Knight said. "It's not asking for an undue delay to take time to fully understand what we are voting on. I take offense to that."

Sullivan is calling for a city attorney opinion on the matter. He said council is responsible for setting salary ranges. But it is up to the executive branch to decide each employee's salary, even if it is at the top of the range or over the range.

Council president Keith King fired back, "We don't need a legal opinion. We have the right to set (the cap) at 5 percent."

City Council will be asked to take $852,066 from the city's reserve fund to cover the raises of the civilian employees. There also will be an ongoing cost of $2 million for employee salary increases starting in the 2014 budget.

Nearly two years ago, the city set out to do "a total compensation study" to find out if Colorado Springs compared to other cities and whether the city was able to compete in attracting, hiring and retaining employees. City employees have not received a raise in six years.

The study showed that Colorado Springs was competitive in nearly all civilian employee categories, although some employees' salaries were as much as 11 percent below the market. Overall, the city was not lagging other cities or employers of similar size, services and geography, the study showed.

City employee Steve Tuck applauded the council's move and said he hoped the council could share with employees how the compensation study was completed and how job duties were compared.

"We are all left wondering," he said.

- In other council business, Chris Riley was sworn as Colorado Springs' fire chief Tuesday during a ceremony at City Hall. Mayor Steve Bach gave Riley the oath of office as a crowded chamber erupted into applause and Riley's mother hugged him at the podium. Riley has 32 years of experience including command, emergency and fire/rescue operations, wildland/urban interface and structural firefighting, and emergency medical services. Riley was the Pueblo fire chief for seven years. He will be paid $145,000 annually.

Former chief Rich Brown is on the city's payroll as a consultant, receiving his full salary of $147,657 and benefits.

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