Vail gives go-ahead for $500K in inflation relief, retention bonuses

The bonuses are part of a larger compensation strategy to be deployed by the town over the coming year

Ali Longwell
Vail Daily
In an effort to maintain competitiveness as well as honor its employees' hard work this year, the town of Vail will dole out $500,000 in bonuses in 2022.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

VAIL — Using savings from unfilled positions, the town of Vail intends to distribute around $500,000 in inflation relief and retention bonuses to its employees this year.

Vail Town Manager Russ Forrest said at the Town Council’s Tuesday, Nov. 15 meeting that these bonuses are meant to “address the inflation and labor pressure we’re certainly feeling within the valley.”

The town of Vail’s largest cost each year is for staffing. In the proposed 2023 budget, $41 million of its projected $95.3 million in expenditures is allocated for salaries and benefits of the budgeted 347 full-time equivalent positions. This proposed budget passed its first reading on Tuesday, Nov. 15, and will have its final hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

According to Forrest, the town of Vail is expecting to end the year with around $1.5 million worth of savings from unfilled positions’ salaries.

“Recognizing that employees have been impacted by the large inflation increases over the last year and most departments have been working short-staffed. The number of vacancies across the town has meant that many employees have needed to work extra, change schedules and deal with increased workloads,” reads a report in the Nov. 15 packet.

Bonuses will be allocated based on an employee’s start date, hours of employment and other factors, ranging from $750 to $1,750. These will be distributed as follows:

  • $750 for part-time employees and new hires since July 1, 2022
  • $1,500 for full-time employees
  • An additional $250 for employees not residing in a town rental unit and not having a take-home vehicle

According to a memo in the Nov. 15 packet, these bonuses are meant not only to “recognize the hard work and inflationary impacts for our employees,” but also to maintain competitiveness with other Colorado municipalities. It goes on to state that Eagle County distributed $4,500 in retention bonuses this year, with Eagle County, Summit County and Aspen also providing signing bonuses for critical and hard-to-fill positions. These signing bonuses range from $1,500 to $15,000.  

Looking forward to the 2023 budget, Carlie Smith, the town’s finance director, reported that requests for six full-time positions were made across the town’s departments. However, Smith recommended waiting to budget for these positions with the economic uncertainty. These requests are expected to be re-evaluated in mid-2023.

Smith also said on Tuesday that the 2023 budget currently includes funds for a 1% to 5% performance and merit-based compensation agreement.

Compensation study

As part of its 2023 budget as well as its employment strategy moving forward, the town is working toward the future implementation of a compensation study, of which $1.2 million is budgeted in the next year to implement the study’s first phase.

The results of this compensation study have yet to be presented to the council but are expected to be presented before the end of 2022. However, at its Oct. 4 meeting, Krista Miller, the town’s human resource and risk management director, presented to the council current compensation trends as well as projections for future compensation and benefits.

During her presentation, Miller stated that the compensation study was using external expertise to help the town drive toward and align with its objectives around compensation and benefits. Specifically, the implementation of the study will seek to bring Vail into the 65th percentile or greater of the competitive market adjusted for cost of labor differences in the valley, Miller reported.

All of this comes as the town battles — alongside all other national, regional and local employers — the changing hiring landscape.

Some of the trends that Miller reported at the October meeting included a recent spike in turnover, with this year anticipated to be “one of our highest turnover years in my history here,” she said.

As of Oct. 4, the turnover rate for 2022 in the town of Vail was at 12.5%, with Miller expecting this number to reach over the 2021 turnover rate of 14.3%. This is compared to 7.8% in 2020 and 11.3% in 2019. Miller reported that historically, the town saw “fairly normal” turnover as anywhere between 8% to 11%.

With recruitment, Miller touched on the hiring challenges exacerbated by the local housing crisis. Specifically, Miller reported that more than half of the town’s applicant pool is from out of the state, with “another good chunk” from outside the region.

“While, as you know, we have been making some strides in increasing the housing opportunities we have, it’s not enough for our vacancies,” Miller said. “It is continually challenging and we are losing candidates who can’t find housing when we can’t provide it.”

While nationally, there has been a trend toward higher salaries, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the employment cost index (which tracks salaries and benefits paid to employees) is almost a percentage higher across the mountain state region than in the rest of the country. (This mountain state region includes Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in addition to Colorado.)

Additionally, Miller reported the trends of increasing wages as well as the addition of retention and signing bonuses from comparison municipalities, adding that these are things the town is continuing to monitor and adapt to.

Council compensation

One other compensation discussion was breached at Tuesday’s meeting. Council member Barry Davis suggested a review of compensation for council members.

“The parking situation currently I think has kind of pressurized, ignited, maybe put some acuteness on a feeling that some of our working locals are feeling about not necessarily feeling seen, heard, appreciated,” Davis said, adding that through conversations with constituents, he heard an idea to increase access to the local government, particularly for those with a second job.

“A person suggested to me that if we were to look at compensation for running for council — obviously this would only affect future councils, not us — but that it might allow someone who has to have a second job or has other requirements to participate in local government,” he added.

“I think that if altering the compensation of council allows us to open up one of these seats potentially to a more diverse audience, it’s definitely worth discussing and exploring.”

It is also something that the town of Avon recently re-evaluated as well. In August, it passed an ordinance increasing its council compensation for future councils, starting in 2024. By 2026, this ordinance doubles the current Avon Town Council compensation. Prior to that, the town had not adjusted these salaries since 1996. 

With a head nod on Tuesday showing majority support for reviewing the town of Vail’s compensation, the council will be expected to review this in the future.

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