Summit County commissioners reject minimum wage ballot question, favor workgroup process

A help wanted sign on businesses along Main Street in November 2018 in Breckenridge. Summit County’s commissioners voted to deny consideration of a ballot question on minimum wage, opting for a workgroup process instead.
Summit Daily file photo

BRECKENRIDGE — The Summit Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to deny consideration of a resolution that would have asked voters about whether they favored instituting a local minimum wage that would gradually increase to $15 an hour. The decision means no advisory question about minimum wage will appear on this year’s ballot.

The decision was made after county staff came up with an alternative proposal to the advisory question. County manager Scott Vargo said staff recommended creating a workgroup with relevant stakeholders, including towns and businesses, to discuss whether the county should have a minimum wage and how much it should be.

Vargo said he had letters of intent to participate in the workgroup from the towns of Blue River, Breckenridge and Frisco, with the town of Dillon not yet committing to the proposal before officially discussing it at its Tuesday night meeting. Vargo said he had discussions with Dillon officials and expected they would join the workgroup, too.

The county offered no specifics as far as who else would be invited to participate in the workgroup or any guarantee the workgroup would come to any consensus on minimum wage. However, Vargo said the workgroup will be targeting early December to finish work.

The vast majority of those commenting spoke out against the ballot question and a higher minimum wage. Many local business owners —including Mike Spry, owner of Sunshine Café in Silverthorne; Tony Pestello, owner of iFurnish in Frisco; Jeff Davis, owner of The Clubhouse in Frisco; and Doug Berg, owner of Farmer’s Insurance — spoke against the prospect of a $15 minimum wage and putting the question to voters. They did, however, welcome the workgroup proposal that would allow input from the business community.

Opponents argued establishing a higher local minimum wage would hurt food and beverage establishments the most, creating an unsustainable wage equivalence between front- and back-of-house workers that could result in businesses not being able to staff their kitchens.

They also argued Summit County’s voters are not educated about how the minimum wage would impact businesses, how businesses already pay workers above minimum wage to keep a competitive business environment and how tipped workers can make $30 to $40 an hour with gratuity under the current system.

Proponents of a local minimum wage, or at least positive discussion toward one, included Peter Bakken, executive director of nonprofit Mountain Dreamers; Rhoda Barr, owner of Brooklyn’s Billiards and Tavern; and an individual who only identified himself as “Joe” and argued passionately in favor of a “livable wage” in Summit County that didn’t force workers to have three to four jobs to get by.

Bakken, who said he wished to present a view not well-represented in the hearing room full of business owners and employers, noted how the county’s community dinners and pantries were always “well-attended,” showing how workers in the area were finding it hard to make enough to feed themselves.

Once comment finished, the commissioners agreed a consensus was required to move forward on minimum wage and unanimously voted to deny consideration of the resolution of the ballot question in favor of the workgroup path.

Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence expressed her desire for the roundtable discussion to take place as soon as possible, while Commissioner Thomas Davidson noted that the state minimum wage was well below the cost of living requirements for Summit County and that Summit was a prime example for the need for a local minimum wage.

No details were immediately available on the scheduling of the first workgroup meeting, which Vargo said would be worked out soon.

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