El Paso County employee pay lags

By Garrison Wells Published: September 12, 2013 | 2:55 pm 0

El Paso County employees are among the lowest paid local government workers in Colorado, about $15,000 below the average pay of employees in other counties, according to a recent report.

At an average of $45,618, they are paid about $8,000 less than employees in Pueblo County and a whopping $27,341 less than employees with the city of Colorado Springs, where the average is almost $73,000, according to a report from the county's Support Services Department.

Almost half, 45 percent of the county's 2,189 employees are paid $39,000 and less a year, the report says.

Seven percent are paid more than $70,000 a year.

Twenty one employees are paid at the top of the scale, more than $100,000 a year, according to the report.

The report is part of an effort by Imad Karaki, head of the county's support services division, to wrest a 3 percent pay increase for employees from the county commissioners.

He's not alone.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa also made a plea to the commissioners to increase salaries.

"The board takes care of its employees as much as you have in your purse," Karaki told the commissioners during recent budget hearings.

"These are the facts," he said. "This is where we are as we compare ourselves to the market."

Karaki said the federal cost of living allowance from 2003 to 2013 was 32.1 percent. For El Paso County employees, the increase was 8.5 percent, which leaves a balance of 23.6 percent. At 3 percent, the cost of the raise for employees would cost the county $2.4 million, Karaki said.

Wage growth among all employees in Colorado show a mixed trend, but confirm El Paso County's ranking among the lowest paid in the state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2012, Douglas County had the largest year-over-year increase in average weekly wages of the state's largest nine counties. Those are counties with a population of more than 75,000.

Douglas County, the BLS says, had a gain of 48 percent in average weekly wages during that time period, soaring well above the nationwide increase of 4.7 percent..

El Paso County finished among the bottom in wage increases, not just statewide, but nationally.

"The counties of Adams, Weld, Boulder, and El Paso recorded wage increases less than the national average and ranked in the bottom half nationwide," the BLS report said.

El Paso County employees won't know their financial futures until some time after Oct. 1, when the county will start crunching numbers, said County Commissioner Peggy Littleton.

"That's when we will begin playing with numbers and give everything consideration," she said.

But, she added, "it's not a mystery, it's a fact" that El Paso County employees are underpaid when compared with counterparts elsewhere.

"For us to keep and show value to our employees, we need to certainly look at that," she said Thursday.

"But realistically, there is only so much money we have in play. Do we do that, or do we add snowplows? It's going to be a difficult decision, quite honestly."

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