Glenwood Springs to increase city staff pay 5%
City Council supports South Canyon road expansion to aid in coal seam fire mitigation efforts
In response to rising inflation, Glenwood Springs City Council unanimously approved a 5% pay increase Thursday for city employees.
Glenwood Springs Chief Operating Officer Steve Boyd told council members annually increasing sales tax collections could cover the cost of the raise.
“What we’re seeing for our employees is that everything is going up in price, except their paychecks,” Boyd said.
Glenwood Springs experienced 10% growth in sales tax collections in both January and February, and though Boyd said he couldn’t speculate growth rates for every month in 2022, a 10% increase for the year overall wasn’t out of the question.
“Inflation has spiked, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “It’s not going to go away soon, but it will go away.”
Council member Paula Stepp said it was the fiscal responsibility of council members to question whether pay increases were feasible in the long term.
“It’s not like we’re going to take back this 5% if inflation goes away,” Stepp said.
Responding to some of Stepp’s questions, Boyd said the city has experienced sales tax collection growth for years and regularly raises employee salaries about 2% to account for growing costs of living.
City Manager Debra Figueroa said nearby municipalities are also increasing employee pay rates, creating an environment of competition throughout the valley.
“If they’re having trouble putting food on the table and gas in the car … then they will leave for more money,” Figueroa said.
Stepp asked if the city considered merit-based promotions instead of an increased pay rate across the board or other incentive programs to ensure employee retention.
“I would love to see something positive for our employees to see there is a potential for increased income without an overnight decision saying, ‘OK, we’re going to give you another raise now,’” Stepp said.
Figueroa said she advocates for employee raises annually based on both cost of living adjustments and merit-based earnings.
Council Member Ingrid Wussow said she supported increasing employee wages.
“The system of a community is strongest when they aren’t overworked,” Wussow said. “This is our way to support the community and the system we have.”
Stepp said she would also support the increase, but she wanted to ensure the decision was feasible for the foreseeable future and not a knee-jerk reaction to a spike in inflation.
“It’s not a question of whether they deserve it,” she said. “It’s a question of the fiscal responsibility.”
Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman motioned to approve the pay increase, with a second from Council Member Marco Dehm, which was passed 7-0.
Coal fire mitigation efforts
In other business, the Colorado Department of Reclamation and Mining Safety (DRMS) provided an update on work the agency is doing in South Canyon to mitigate the impacts of a decades-long underground coal fire in the area.
In 2002, the Coal Seam Fire ignited as a result of fires raging through abandoned underground coal mining operations beneath South Canyon.
Throughout Colorado, the DRMS is monitoring 38 underground coal fires, of which about 15 are located in Garfield County. South Canyon is the largest in the county, said DRMS spokesperson Tara Tafi.
During the last 20 years, DRMS has collected data in South Canyon, including 3-D modeling, thermal imaging and borehole temperature modeling.
Tafi said DRMS staff visit the canyon most months of the year.
In 2020, DRMS completed a South Canyon soil cover project, which included grading and covering about 4.5 acres with a 12-inch clay cover before revegetating the area.
The agency returned to the project area in 2021 to mitigate fire dangers, such as the proliferation of cheatgrass and thistle, both of which are considered wildfire risks, Tafi explained.
In 2022, the DRMS is planning a road expansion to an existing two-track path in South Canyon West, granting the agency access to hot spots in the canyon where surface temperatures have recently been recorded between 200-300 degrees.
The proposed path could require the city to close portions of a mountain bike trail in the area, but the closure would be temporary and could be limited to work hours, Tafi said.
“In order to do any kind of meaningful reclamation on the west side of South Canyon, we have to have access for equipment and trucks,” she explained.
She also reported additional funding provided through recently approved bipartisan infrastructure legislation could allow the DRMS to set a goal for extinguishing the coal fires beneath South Canyon in about 15 years, when the additional funding sunsets.
Dehm made a motion to support the DRMS road expansion project, which would occur on property owned by the city, with a second from Wussow. Council unanimously approved the motion.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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