Douglas County government experiencing ‘staffing crisis’ amid low pay

Managers, human resources director asking for raises

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Douglas County government is struggling to find employees and seeing “historically high” turnover rates as the board of commissioners has delayed approving raises. 

In April, human resources director Laura Leary asked commissioners to approve a 3% across-the-board raise for the county’s 1,350 employees.

“Some directors would say, they would describe it as a staffing crisis right now,” Leary said. 

Leary recommended that a raise be enacted for June 30 paychecks, saying the latest the board could vote to meet that timeline was in May. 

Commissioner Lora Thomas supported the raise increase while commissioners Abe Laydon and George Teal were not ready to move forward.

While the board agreed to revisit the subject in May, no meeting was ever scheduled. A spokesperson said it will be discussed sometime in June.

Last year’s turnover rate at the county was about 18% and this year is on par to be about the same. As of June 3, there were 139 vacancies in the organization. 

“In jobs we used to get say 20 to 30 applicants pretty regularly, we are seeing things like two applicants, three applicants,” Leary said.

County Clerk and Recorder Merlin Klotz has also been asking commissioners to pay his staff higher wages in several emails obtained by Colorado Community Media through a public records request.

“Failure to create a system that addresses this issue in real time will simply create chaos, retention/retrain costs and a larger monster to address as we kick the problem down the road,” Klotz wrote in a Jan. 12 email. 

In other emails, Klotz said in 2021, his office brought in nearly 20% more revenue compared to the previous year. In April, he said his office’s turnover rate was 10%.

“My fear is that at some point the current unacceptable attrition rate will become a mad rush to the door,” he wrote April 12. 

Commissioners have met with Klotz, Coroner Jill Romann, Treasurer Dave Gill and Assessor Lisa Frizell regarding compensation complaints, Commissioner Abe Laydon said.

In May, the commissioners received an anonymous letter on the topic from someone who identified themself a Douglas County employee. The author, who declined to speak with Colorado Community Media on the record out of fear of retribution, described difficulties coming from the low wages.

“We appreciate our new Douglas County open space. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to drive there or pay for food to enjoy on a picnic,” they wrote.

Douglas County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, announced this year that its budget is balanced and is virtually debt-free. In the April 18 staff presentation, finance director Martha Marshall said raises would cost about $2.25 million this year.

“All funds can handle that without a problem,” she said.

In the meeting, Laydon said he was hesitant to enact the raise because he didn’t want “to be accused of pulling a stunt before the primary election.” Laydon is running for re-election this year and is uncontested in the June primary.

In a June 3 interview, Laydon said the commissioners are “taking a very hard look” at raises this month and that he anticipates a significant cost of living adjustment.

“I think as a commissioner our citizens rely on the board to be good fiscal stewards and not to be reactionary to momentary financial pressures,” he said. ”If there’s a significant market correction and we’ve made a significant commitment on a significant financial commitment that we can’t adjust in the future, or it would be hard to adjust in the future, we’re putting the county in jeopardy.” 

Commissioner George Teal also didn’t support the measure in April, saying he wanted to wait to see how the ongoing war in Ukraine and interest rate changes will impact the economy. 

“Not everybody is getting it in the private sector,” he said.”They’re getting the inflation but they’re not getting the inflation to their paychecks.”

Commissioner Lora Thomas said she would be in favor of the 3% raise.

“They’re not going to get rich off this but it’s going to help them pay for their gas and put food on the table for their kids,” Thomas said. “So I would like to encourage us to help our employees who help our residents.”

Thomas said she requested another meeting on the topic be scheduled for June 3 but it didn’t occur. She added she’s concerned that employees may feel the need to turn to collective bargaining if a raise is not provided.

Douglas County, compensation, inflation, Elliott Wenzler, Lora Thomas, Abe Laydon, George Teal

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