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Tricky silver lining

Tiny pay increases don't mean all bad news for some Springs city workers


Lori Smith (left) and Jennifer Stroh have spent much of - the past year calculating salary data for the city. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Lori Smith (left) and Jennifer Stroh have spent much of the past year calculating salary data for the city.

The city's human resources department has made its 2008 salary plan recommendations, and it sure looks like firefighters are only getting a 1 percent raise in 2008.

It appears police officers will fare a little better, with a 2.9 percent bump.

Of course, that's better than some unlucky folks, who won't get a raise at all.

According to human resources manager Lori Smith, it's not as bad as it sounds. Those 1 percents and 2.9 percents don't really represent raises, she says. They're actually "market adjustments," and the fact that they're small is, overall, a good thing.

Sound like a bunch of bureaucratic bull? Consider that Smith and coworker Jennifer Stroh spent a good deal of last year e-mailing, sorting through paperwork and databases, and pounding their calculators to come up with these figures.

The market-based system was approved in 1997, after City Council decided a more complex system "wasn't working for them," human resources director Ann Crossey says.

The idea, Smith says, is to offer competitive wages which means going down the list of city salaries and comparing them to those of other cities.

"We're trying to keep it within an ideal range," Smith says.

Wondering what makes a "market adjustment" different from a raise? For one thing, Smith says, an employee can still receive a performance-based raise in addition to a market adjustment, as long as he or she hasn't reached the limit on salary for the position. Those who have topped out, of course, are only eligible for the annual market adjustment.

And while that 1 percent adjustment for firefighters may sound lame, Smith says the fact that it's small is a good sign. It means firefighters' wages haven't fallen far behind the market rate.

A firefighter could be making as much as $5,098 per month under the 2008 plan. A police officer could earn $5,582 per month.

Smith has gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that the market adjustment is fair, by finding the logical markets for comparison.

For most employees, that means looking at what similar jobs pay in the cities of Aurora, Arvada, Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Lakewood, Pueblo and Westminster places from which the Springs is likely to recruit new employees.

For managerial positions, human resources looks regionally or nationally at cities like Tucson, Ariz., Las Vegas, Nev., and Albuquerque, N.M. Once the data is collected, a median is calculated.

This year, the study reviewed about 70 percent of individual positions. That comprehensive study is done every two to three years, with less involved updates in between.

Of course, the median is based on information that is a year to 18 months old, so the Springs is always a bit behind the times. And the proposed 2008 city budget wouldn't give employees all the money right away. Salary adjustments would be phased in or delayed.

Some people are ticked about that.

Police Sgt. Otto Knollhoff, speaking as the president of the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association (an employee association), gave a hopping-mad presentation to City Council on the issue recently.

On Tuesday, Knollhoff was less charged, but no less disappointed. He thinks raises should be implemented right away in 2008, and that the median should be based on the current year.

"It does affect morale," he says, noting that in 2007, the market increase didn't even cover cost of living. "Your standard of living is going down."

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