Silverthorne looks to make wage increases for government employees as hiring becomes more competitive

The Silverthorne Recreation Center is pictured on July 31, 2022. Town leaders are looking to increase pay for staff members, including positions that work at the center.
Eliza Noe/Summit Daily News archive

As towns across Summit County look to beef up compensation and benefits in order to retain employees, the town of Silverthorne is continuing efforts to keep valuable employees as well as bringing on new ones. 

Town Manager Ryan Hyland said that the town completed a market study in order to gauge where pay for positions was in other towns in addition to Silverthorne. The town’s human resources department looked at data from the Colorado Municipal League as well as 15 comparable towns to find the maximum, minimum, midpoint and average pay for each position in order to make recommendations for pay ranges. Each range goes to town directors, who evaluate them.

Hyland said that increasing efficiency and stretching dollars where possible has been a good temporary solution, but he and others on town staff do not want to decrease services to the community. Over the past two years, the hiring world has become a totally different environment, and traditionally, municipalities usually didn’t face the same turnover that businesses in mountain communities typically face, except for seasonal town jobs. Now, towns are seeing cycles of turnover. 

In March, Vail Resorts announced a jump in base pay to $20 per hour for the 2022-23 season, which has pushed most towns in Summit County to reevaluate pay scales. Other challenges include work-from-home opportunities and housing. In order to combat competing offers, Hyland and others on staff are proposing a 5% cost of living adjustment and shifting pay ranges up. 

“Money’s not everything,” Hyland said. “People want to work at a great place, and we said we’ll see how far that takes us. … It only goes so far, and we’ve had a number of incidents where we have had to react when someone says, ‘I love working here and do not want to leave, but I have this offer on the table over here.’ We have worked on some of those individual situations, knowing that every one of those creates some challenges within the department, because what happens to that other person who didn’t go out and have a job offer?”

Hyland said that town staff wants to avoid wage crunch, when the base pay is raised so much that it is closing in on the pay of a staff member who has been with the town for years. That’s why the town is shifting the entire range of pay up. Someone who makes 85% of the pay range before the shift would still make 85% of the range after the shift. Others might get further raises based on performance and tenure, and not all range shifts will happen at the same rate. Positions that require specialized certification may get a higher range raise than a personal trainer, for instance.

This year, the town has about $500,000 in unpaid wages for job openings that have not been filled. According to the town’s website, jobs range from senior planner to equipment operator to fitness instructor, among others. Finance Director Laura Kennedy said that each budget season, the town budgets pay as if the town is 100% fully staffed for the entire year, which is where that $500,000 comes from. 

“(Human resources) has looked at every single position in town individually and done a market study against those positions in other jurisdictions, so it has been looked at surgically,” Kennedy said. “The ones that do get the bigger bumps are the ones that demand skill, such as police officers, (commercial) drivers, water sewer operators and positions that come with certifications. The surgical work has been done. It’s not something where we’re just like, ‘Everybody gets a $10,000 raise.’ Every single position has been evaluated.”

Currently, the town offers a $2,000 hiring bonus for all new full-time employees and $400 to part-time employees. Earlier this year, the town also made updates to its down payment assistance program as an added benefit to employees.

Hyland added that he doesn’t want Silverthorne to necessarily be the municipality that drives higher wages, but the town still has to compete and keep up with the pace of rising pay and other benefits. Council member Erin Young, who owns Red Buffalo Coffee & Tea, said she commends town staff for looking at adjustments more than just once per year. In February, staff approached the council for a smaller cost of living adjustment to prevent a “mass exodus.”

“A lot of people this year are working with less employees because of the state of everyone having less employees. Then everyone has to do more for the same amount or for less,” Young said. “I think that just rubs everyone poorly. I like that (staff is) looking at it more than once a year to be able to be like, ‘Look, we recognize that (town staff members) might be doing more.’ One, it’s more competitive, and two, we might have asked you to do more for less.”

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