Sheriff Terry Maketa probably won’t get 34 additional patrol deputies and 70 other full-time employees he requested for next year. Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams won’t get to open a fifth location. El Paso County Public Health likely won’t get financial help from the county to lease new office space, either.
Giving some or all of the county’s 2,143 employees about $2 million in raises next year is still on the table, though.
In the third 2012 county budget hearing Thursday, the five commissioners agreed to mull over dire pleas from elected officials and department heads, and a recommendation from the Citizen Budget Oversight Committee, to boost salaries, which they say are at dismal enough levels to cause high attrition rates and slim pickings when hiring.
“We’re at the bottom level of any scale — government or private sector — and it’s hard to retain people. We’re trying to keep our people off the programs that we serve at DHS (Department of Human Services),” Monnie Gore, deputy county administrator, told commissioners.
But commissioners acknowledged that doing so might be controversial. Commissioners Amy Lathen and Darryl Glenn scolded the media for potentially “sensationalizing” the issue and wanting to report current salaries of staff, which are public record and can be viewed by clicking here.
“Any time you start talking about salaries, the spin from the media does more to polarize the community,” Glenn said.
Added Lathen: “I hope people will remember there are differences in their local government, which is the best, versus the bloating we see at the federal level.”
The county is still playing financial catch up from a budget crisis, according to Budget Officer Nicola Sapp. From 2006 to 2009, the county cut $45.2 million from its unrestricted general fund budget and has not reinstated the money.
Also, from 2007 to 2009, the county eliminated about 300 positions through layoffs, early retirement and attrition.
Money spent on personnel represents 70 percent of the unrestricted general fund budget, which is nearly $94 million for 2012 — about the same as this year’s budget.
The county’s budget picture has improved because of conservative sales tax revenue forecasts, a more favorable bond rating, savings across county operations and better-than-expected property valuations.
Eight offices and departments have begged for $48.5 million in “critical needs” to commissioners in recent weeks. On Thursday, commissioners made their first stab at balancing next year’s budget but added only about $4 million of the identified critical needs. Those include the proposed $2.03 million in salary increases, the costs of the 2012 primary and general elections, hiring a forensic pathologist, and about $482,000 for the sheriff’s office for increases in the jail’s food service contract, vehicle maintenance, ammunition and other items.
Imad Karaki, director of the support services department, said a salary survey of Colorado’s 10 largest counties, along with the cities of Colorado Springs and Denver, shows that El Paso County workers earn the lowest average salary of $45,616, compared with the highest, the city of Colorado Springs, at $72,959. The overall salary average paid by all 12 entities is $60,689.
“For the past decade, we’ve dealt with inequity in salaries,” he said, “and we’re still lower than everyone else. We’re still sort of the training ground for employees.”
Maketa said the situation has almost reached the point where he’s having trouble filling vacancies with qualified people.
The largest number of county employees, 642, fall into the $30,000 to $39,000 annual salary range. The next biggest group of 464 employees are in the $50,000 to $59,000 range. One percent, or 21 people, earn $90,000 to $99,000, and another 21 employees earn $100,000 to $125,000 a year. But 346 employees earn $29,000 or less.
El Paso County’s employee turnover rate is 22 percent, on average, Sapp said. District Attorney Dan May said he had to hire 19 of 22 investigators from 2008 to 2010, but that a one-time $100,000 the commissioners gave his office last year as bonuses for investigators has reduced turnover to 19 percent. That’s down from 38 percent in 2008.
Commissioner Sallie Clark said she wants to review the compensation studies and which offices have the highest turnover.
One issue that was not resolved Thursday is whether salary increases should be 3 percent across-the-board, as the Citizen Budget Oversight Committee recommended, or a pay-for-performance type of compensation, as Glenn wants.
All county employees received a 3 percent pay increase in 2009 but nothing last year or this year.
Commissioners must submit a preliminary balanced budget to the state by Oct. 15 and plan to have a final budget Dec. 13.
Current county salary report
Search for El Paso County employees (by last name) and their 2011 salaries in an interactive database by clicking here and looking under “public employee salaries.” Salary databases also are available for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities and Memorial Health System.