By RYAN SHERIDAN
Daily Press writer
(Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series detailing the wage compensation plan for Moffat County employees implemented on Jan. 1.)
Some county officials and employees have complaints about the new compensation plan implemented in Moffat County on Jan. 1.
Questions remain on how some wage ratings were accomplished, why some data will not be released, and how the county will respond to wage ratings appeals.
The compensation plan is a project designed to bring wages for all Moffat County departments into balance with other similar counties. Market data was collected by a consultant, which was added to data later collected by Moffat County Human Resources Director Tom Skelding to form the basis for the wage restructuring.
A second goal of the compensation plan was the implementation of a merit pay system, where employees will be rewarded on performance, not longevity or seniority. An employee performance review system was also implemented along with the new concentration on merit pay. Seniority will still play a factor, but an employee's advancement, raises and evaluations will be primarily judged on their performance.
The Moffat County Road and Bridge Department has many employees that are upset with how the plan is structured, according to Road and Bridge Department mechanics Lyle Henry and Ron Wilson.
"It's unfair to allow some departments to use their own data, while holding other departments to the original data that's a biased view," Henry said. "The Moffat County Commissioners did their own calculations and summary of the wage structure, but the Moffat County Sheriff's Office was allowed to bring in their own data and restructure their wages. Our department head doesn't have the luxury to go out and collect data, or have the employees collect data. Our department head is basically appointed, and can be fired, where [Sheriff] Buddy [Grinstead] is elected, and can go out and gather different data.
"If we do a study, where do we take it? We have no clout, no push. We have no power to have the data looked at."
"We're just a couple of Joe Blow mechanics, so the county doesn't have to listen to us," Wilson said. "The [Commissioners] won't give [Road and Bridge Interim Supervisor] Billy [Mack] the power to do what Buddy has done and they can't fire Buddy. It's not fair if you don't allow one department to do what other departments have done."
Both Henry and Wilson said the removal of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase as a guaranteed annual raise is also a problem, and when combined with the upkeep of their tools and the loss of the longevity reward, employees will fall farther and farther behind rather than improve their financial standing.
"I've worked at Road and Bridge for 19 years, and now they've frozen my wage until Lyle, who's worked there for three years, catches up," Wilson said. "That's impossible with the raises [the plan] proposed, there's no way [Lyle] can [catch up to me].
"There's no way we're going to keep up with cost of living if COLA is removed. How can we keep up with the rest of the world?"
"We supply our own tools for our jobs, and we used to get compensation for their maintenance. Without the COLA, without the $25 a month for every year you stay with [Road and Bridge] and with no compensation for our tools, pretty soon we'll start moving backwards," Henry said. "We'll end up basically paying to keep our jobs."
Henry was also a member of the original employee steering committee that was helping to create the performance evaluation criteria. That work has been phased out, replaced with work done by the department heads only, Henry said.
Mack has received mostly negative reactions from his department.
"The feedback I've got is that people are not satisfied [with the plan]," he said. "There's a lot of skepticism in general. I'm hoping for the best, and we'll see."
Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead is pleased with where the Sheriff's Office ended up, but only after the proposed wage scales had been revised.
"Prior to the final plan we have now, there were definitely problems in the initial pay scale," he said. "The plan showed a Peace Officer Standard and Training certified deputy starting at $26,500. That number was too low."
According to Grinstead, the MCSO gathered data from every law enforcement agency in Northwest Colorado. From that data, the starting average pay was $31,500. The compensation plan now calls for a starting salary of $32,000 for a deputy, but Grinstead still has some issues with the program.
"I took the data to the county, and they agreed with my findings, no questions asked. They accepted the data, but denied us access to the original information gathered that concerns me.
"I definitely think people need to see the data the plan is being put together with, on a countywide level. I don't feel Skelding was given free reign to do everything I think some control was involved. Without seeing the information on a countywide scale, people can't know if they're at the level they need to be at."
The lack of any recognition for seniority was also dealt with by the MCSO. The department was given the funds for wages that surrounded the midpoint, approximately $36,000, in a lump sum, with the discretion to divide that money among the employees as the department saw fit.
"We took the pool of money around the midpoint, and divided it amongst our 11 guys we have on patrol accordingly," Grinstead said. "We wanted to give people who have been here a long time the financial reward they should have been given originally.
"At the Sheriff's Office, I'm satisfied with how the compensation plan came out, but I still have concerns countywide. There are questions about the data, about what is used to verify the pay ranges."
Appeals of certain wage ratings have been filed with the Commissioners and the Human Resource Department. One appeal involved the ratings of the Deputy Treasurer and Deputy Clerk as compared to the Deputy Assessor the Deputy Treasurer and Deputy Clerk are three salary grades lower. The appeal was filed by the County Assessor, Treasurer and Clerk in December.
"From the looks of the plan, when they graded the employees for all three offices, they based it on information about what a deputy assessor made," Moffat County Assessor Dennis Shanahan said. "There were no other categories looked at. If there was research on a deputy assessor, certainly deputy clerk and deputy treasurer numbers should be available.
"All I can tell is that it seems that the three offices were based on that deputy assessor information. From that they set the rest of the employees. It's something that can be solved down the road."
The Human Resource department was directed by the Commissioners to find more research, but those three offices have not received any notice of the work yet, Shanahan said.
Three employees of the Moffat County Social Services Department filed an appeal of their ratings in late December, and also have not received a response.
"We have not heard a word on our appeals," said Clarice Corriveau, one of the three Social Service employees. "I don't feel everyone is being treated fairly. I think [the county] is making the numbers what they need them to be.
"Based on our hearing, our appeals aren't a priority. They are on the back burner. I think they're stalling so we'll eventually forget about it."
The county employees should be allowed to see the information that the plan is based on, Corriveau said.
"That would make all the county employees feel much more at ease" she said. "We've been kept in the dark they say they can't give out the data. It seems strange how that is. I think if everything gets done right, this plan could be worthwhile, but the pace is screwed up. It's like they've put the cart before the horse."