Pitkin County is planning to give a flat $1,000 bonus to its employees this summer, marking the first pay increase for government workers in three years.
The county commissioners included a 1.5 percent bonus for their employees in the 2012 budget. Salaries had been frozen in the county since the onset of the global recession — last giving a 4 percent wage increase in 2009.
When it was passed in the budget last year, the bonuses were described as “merit-based,” providing a rewards system for good employees. But a county committee found that without an established system of determining “merit” in place at the county, a flat pay-out would be more fair.
“We were really asked to figure out what is the fair and equitable thing to do with this 1.5 percent,” said Dannette Logan, county human resources director and chair of the volunteer compensation committee.
The county convened 13 employees from 11 different departments to devise the best way to distribute bonuses. They met throughout the spring, and settled on the flat bonus as the fairest means of rewarding all employees.
They considered several other options, among them was what came to be known as the “Robin Hood effect,” when bonus money would be taken from employees with salaries over $100,000 and redistributed to lower-salaried staffers.
The committee will begin working on a strategy for merit-based employee bonus evaluations this week, Logan said. They also meet with the Pitkin County commissioners today, to inform the board of the bonus plan.
“We feel that it’s kind of a good lead into a re-introduction of a merit bonus plan,” Logan said. “The organization is moving toward a pay-for-performance structure.”
Bonuses are scheduled to be paid next month, distributing 1.5 percent of the payroll to employees through the $1,000 checks. It amounts to more than $300,000 in county funds.
The county commissioners unanimously supported the bonuses last fall. After three years of frozen wages, county officials worried that they would lose quality employees — or the ability to recruit high-caliber new workers — without a bump in pay.
The stagnant paychecks offered employees a decreasing salary value, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock noted in budget discussions last year, due to ongoing inflation.
Pitkin County’s bonuses are conservative compared to other local public entities, including the city of Aspen, which gave a “cost of living” wage increase last year with a 2 percent raise. Also last year, the town of Snowmass Village gave employees a 3 percent raise, and Eagle County gave a 4 percent raise. Garfield County last year gave an effective 2.5 percent raise, paid into benefits.
District Attorney Martin Beeson sought a 2 percent wage increase for employees in his tri-county district, but the Pitkin County commissioners failed to support it. In response, the DA budgeted 1.5 percent end-of-year bonuses.