Bucking the trend in recent years, La Plata County employees are likely to receive a raise in 2020, a move county officials hope will help with high turnover rates.
Since 2010, La Plata County’s operating budget has plummeted, mostly a result of a decline in the oil and gas industry in the region, which has translated to less property tax revenues.
During that time span, for instance, property tax revenue declined about 50% – from $29.4 million in 2010 to $14.9 million in 2018.
As a result, La Plata County braced for budget shortfalls, cutting services to residents, reducing staff and not taking on as many maintenance projects like improving roads.
Raises for staff, too, suffered.
Megan Graham, spokeswoman for the county, said stagnant staff wages for the past decade have caused the county to not be as competitive as other employers, which in part has resulted in a high turnover rate of 15%.
About 60% of employee salaries, for instance, are still clustered around entry-level wages, despite how much time the staffer has been at the county, Graham said.
“We’re hiring people at entry-level and keeping them at entry-level wages,” she said. “That makes it really difficult to hire and retain people.”
Some staff members, said Commissioner Clyde Church, are often forced to leave the job for higher wages elsewhere.
“It’s a bit demoralizing,” Church said. “We have to keep the people who are qualified.”
And low wages don’t just affect staff members. High turnover results in more time and money invested in rehiring and retraining people, which can result in a delay in services.
“People are equal to services to the county,” Graham said. “So high turnover impacts the services we’re able to provide.”
There’s no better example in La Plata County government than the Human Services Department, where a 30% turnover rate in 2018 has resulted in a backlog of 1,000 documents for services like medical, food and income assistance.
The proposed 2020 budget, however, calls for modest wage increases, Graham said.
County officials are proposing a 2% wage increase across the board, as well as reimplementing a long defunct “merit increase plan,” which allows for raises based on performance.
Salaries and benefits for about 400 employees are consistently the county’s top expenditures. The draft 2020 budget proposes $33.2 million toward the expense, about 40% of the entire $75.6 million operating budget.
Salaries and benefits, for comparison, were about $30.9 million in 2019.
Also a result of previous budget woes, the county has held numerous positions vacant. In 2020, the county proposes to rehire seven of those posts, including a code compliance assistant, an assistant county attorney, a resource adviser and manager in Human Services, and an equipment operator for the Road & Bridge Department, to name some.
And, the county plans to hire eight new positions, including four security officers, a detentions deputy and cook for the Sheriff’s Office, a senior resource adviser in Human Services and a senior clerk and recording technician for the Clerk & Recorder’s Office.
La Plata County commissioners are expected to adopt the proposed 2020 budget Dec. 10.