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Garfield County budget talks weigh wage increase vs. full insurance coverage

Garfield County government workers may have to give up some of a planned merit pay increase next year, in favor of the county covering 100% of their health insurance costs — or vice versa.

County commissioners, during a recent 2022 budget workshop, sought to find some compromise between a proposed 5% employee pay hike aimed at employee retention, and what’s expected to be a $900,000 increase over this year to fully cover workers’ family health insurance premiums.

Commissioner Mike Samson, at the Oct. 25 session, proposed reducing the wage hike to 3% in order to continue to cover the full health insurance costs.



Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he’d rather see the county move to a lower percentage for dependent/family health coverage, in favor of keeping the 5% raises.

And, Commission Chairman John Martin, suggested meeting somewhere in the middle.



It’s all still up for discussion as the commissioners, during their regular Monday meeting, are set to adopt the 2022 county budget.

“We’re down 20 employees (at last count), and it’s just so competitive right now to find workers,” Jankovsky said in favor of leaving the 5% pay raise in. “We can’t afford to lose more employees, and replacing them is difficult.”

Instead, he proposed the county not pick up the entire tab for employee spouse and dependent health insurance, putting more burden on employees, but saving the county about $640,000 in the process.

“Our employee base is changing,” Jankovsky said. “Our baby boomers are retiring, and we’re seeing younger employees who are more concerned about how much money they’re bringing home.

“I don’t know if (full) health insurance is a driving factor anymore for people to work for us,” he said. “I just think 5% sends a message to our employees that they’re valuable, that we’re competitive, and that we want to keep them here.”

Two other county elected officials who run sizable county departments said they’d prefer the higher wages as a recruiting and retention tool.

Employee replacement costs, including the time and cost to train them and get them up to speed, ends up being more expensive than paying a higher wage in the first place, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said.

Garfield County Treasurer Carrie Couey agreed.

“We get more productivity out of our senior, experienced staff, and we lose that efficiency with turnover,” she said. “You may find out it’s more efficient per dollar to give that bigger raise.”

County Human Resources Director Diane Hayes also noted during the discussion that three recent job offers were refused due to pay.

County Manager Kevin Batchelder said Garfield County is losing employees and prospects to neighboring Eagle and Pitkin counties, and the cities of Glenwood Springs and Rifle. All of those entities have recently upped their wages by 5%, he said.

Wages and health insurance for employees costs the county about $50 million a year, on a $112.9 million proposed 2022 budget.

Hayes said the county lost ground last year when it implemented a 1.5% pay increase, while most other entities were giving at least 3% or 4%.

Jankovsky noted that the county has been prudent in cutting worker costs, reducing the county workforce over the past two years by 25 through attrition. The cuts have been necessary as the county has had to adjust to a $6.3 million property tax revenue decrease during that time, related to the downturn in oil and gas activity.

“We have trimmed the budget, and in doing that we’ve asked people to do more with less,” Jankovsky said.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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