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Paonia okays town manager raise

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Paonia town manager Jane Berry will receive a raise in 2016 after the town board of trustees approved a 5 percent pay increase by a 4-2 vote Tuesday morning. Dec. 29, during a special meeting. The raise, which is tied to a performance review, amounts to an increase of $3,730 for the year.

In the absence of Mayor Neal Schwieterman, Mayor Pro Tem Charles Stewart said prior to the vote that Berry's current salary of $74,600 is "below the mid-range for town managers for a community of our size," or roughly $80,000 per year.

Earlier this year, Berry waived her contractual right to a raise of up to 5 percent, also tied to a performance evaluation. Berry also waived health insurance benefits, which saves the town about $8,000 annually, said Stewart.

The town manager's salary is subsidized through Jan. 31, 2016, by a three-year grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The grant paid 75 percent of the salary for the position in 2014, most of which went to interim town manager Steven Rabe, and 50 percent in 2015. The grant will reimburse 25 percent, or about $21,000, of the town manager's salary in 2016.

Trustee Eric Goold, who cast a nay vote, expressed concern that the DOLA grant is running out and the town will eventually have to pay the entire salary.

The town is in contact with DOLA regarding some contractual issues that will need to be addressed in 2015, including how much the town can draw off the grant, said Stewart.

Per the town manager's contract, the board of trustees conducted a performance evaluation on Berry this fall. While the specifics of the evaluation are considered a personnel matter and were discussed in executive session at the Dec. 8 board meeting, Stewart said Berry was ranked in 30 categories, and the "overwhelming majority of the rankings were in the 'good' to 'excellent' range."

Stewart said it's his understanding that the town has never held a performance evaluation for department heads, and that the plan is to continue the practice. "This is a major step forward," said Stewart. "The town does need to be doing performance evaluations."

Berry is not the only town employee who will receive a raise in 2016. While the town awarded no raises in 2015, just over $19,000 was set aside in the 2016 budget specifically for pay increases. About $1,800 of that was used to reduce employee medical insurance costs.

"We want to keep... a solid, competent team in place" and reward employees for their accomplishments, said Berry.

Trustees Suzanne Watson also voted against the pay increase. "I'm not in favor of pay increases at this time with the belt-tightening that we're having to undertake and the austerity measures that are in place," said Watson.

Goold also expressed concern over "appearances," and said there is public perception that the town raised water and sewer rates to fund the raise.

Berry replied that public works employees' salary is split 50/50 between the water and sewer funds, and that only a small percentage of her income comes from those funds.

"They are simply not related," said Stewart, who reiterated that funds for all raises will come from the $19,000 set aside for raises.

In addition, the town must fulfill all of its contractual obligations, said Stewart. In the past, raises and bonuses were awarded "indiscriminately" by the board, and with little or no correlation to performance or discussion by the board. "We cannot enter into contracts with employees, with contractors, and then not honor those contracts," said Stewart.

During the special meeting trustees also unanimously voted to approve a 2016 agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey to continue seasonal operation and maintenance of a gaging station located on the North Fork of the Gunnison River below Paonia. The contract extends from July 1 through Oct. 31, 2016. The town will pay $3,710 of the $5,530 contract amount, and the USGS will provide matching federal funds of $1,820.

Trustees also approved final disbursements for 2015, and unanimously voted to adopt Resolution 2015-15, amending town employee 457(B) pension plans. Police department employees currently receive a 5 percent contribution from the town plus an 8-percent contribution from the Fire and Police Pension Association of Colorado toward their plans, explained Stewart. The amendment excludes police officers from receiving the town contribution, but does not preclude them from making elective contributions to their retirement plans.

While town contributions to the plan kick in after six months, new, full-time employees can elect to make voluntary contributions to their plans upon being hired, said Berry.

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