Summit County considers local minimum wage
FRISCO — A minimum wage law recently signed by Gov. Jared Polis is giving heartburn to some Summit County employers. When it goes into effect next year, the law will give local governments the ability to set a minimum wage for workers, which could be higher than the state and federal minimum wage.
Jessica Valand, director of northwest and rural resort workforce development for the Colorado Department of Labor, gave a rundown of the new law and its implications Tuesday morning during the Summit County commissioners’ regular work session.
The law, HB19-1210, will give local governments the ability to set a local minimum wage for all adults and emancipated minors who work at least four hours a week in the geographic boundaries of the government’s jurisdiction.
If a local government adopts a minimum wage higher than the state’s minimum wage, it cannot be increased more than $1.75 an hour or 15% annually, whichever is higher. The local minimum wage must have a tip offset for tipped employees equal to the offset in the state constitution.
The law will work in conjunction with Amendment 70, a constitutional amendment passed by Colorado voters in 2016 that will raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour next year.
Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Valand said, the average Summit County worker makes $20.14 an hour, with tipped workers like servers making an average of $10.12 an hour.
To be self-sufficient with the high cost of living in Summit, a single adult needs to make a minimum of $14 an hour to get by, Valand said. For a household with an adult and child, that minimum jumps to $30 an hour.
The idea of implementing a higher minimum wage in line with the cost of living in Summit was lambasted by business leaders in attendance.
Tony Postello, owner of furnishing stores iFurnish and iMattress in Frisco and former president of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce, rejected the need for a local minimum wage and asked facetiously why the minimum wage isn’t just raised to $100 an hour to make everyone happy.
Dick Carlton, owner of Breckenridge restaurants Mi Casa and Hearthstone, insisted his restaurant industry workers made much more in tips and that the $10.12 figure was inaccurate.
He also said he struggles to hire workers during shoulder seasons because his employees make enough to leave their jobs and travel, following a lifestyle that doesn’t conform to the constraints of a minimum-wage system.
While employers gave their perspective at Tuesday’s work session, the perspective of people most affected by a potentially higher local minimum wage — hourly and tipped workers — was not offered as none were in attendance.
Before passing a minimum wage, the law requires local governments to get input from a variety of stakeholders, including local chambers of commerce, small and large businesses, workers, labor unions and community groups.
Commissioner Thomas Davidson, who supported the local minimum wage law, said Tuesday was merely the start of the discussion on local minimum wage and that the county government will be seeking input from workers and union representatives and all other relevant stakeholders.
“Of course, if you had actual employees and workers in the room, I think they would have told a very different part of the story” on minimum wage, Davidson said.
Davidson added that the county would try to find ways to engage workers, who may be working during the county’s meetings and unable to offer comment. That might include evening meetings or other outreach efforts.
Before a local minimum wage could pass, he said there were other challenges that needed to be overcome, including a quirk in the law that allows only 10% of the state’s local governments to pass their own local minimum wage.
Once the 10% threshold is met, no other local governments can pass a local minimum wage unless the state’s general assembly permits more. This requirement has created some confusion, as “local government” is not explicitly defined.
The requirement also effectively creates a race for local governments to pass their minimum wage laws before others do, meaning if Summit County wants to pass its own minimum wage, it will need to do so quickly. To avoid hitting the threshold, the county and towns would need to create an intergovernmental agreement and pass a united minimum wage as a single local government entity.
Davidson said it would be a challenge to create a consensus for a local minimum wage across Summit County.
“My hope is that we will all work on this together because each and every jurisdiction will need to play along and decide the right thing to do,” Davidson said. “I’d be the first to acknowledge that it would be difficult in a patchwork community like Summit County.”
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