Some employees in Grand County ought to be earning more, according to the county’s human resources director and at least several county council members.

But just what to do about the situation, amidst a financial shortfall that has council members proposing a tax on overnight guests, is up in the air.

What council members know is this: The issue needs to be examined, and they’re planning to do so during a work session on May 29.

Whether they’ll decide to increase the salaries of the two dozen or so employees who are underpaid and when to do it is another question. They may choose to wait until budget time in the fall to take any action. Or they may choose to bring some employees up to a fair wage now – and others later. 

The topic has been on the table a couple times over the past several months. 

Last fall, the Sheriff, the Clerk and the Assessor brought the issue to the council, said Human Resources Director Orlinda Robertson. They were concerned that several employees were working beyond their positions’ classifications. Many government employers operate on a classification, or grade, system to control things such as salary and advancement.

The council asked for more information on employees county-wide, not just in those departments.

So Robertson spent four months researching 18 Utah counties of similar size.

What she found: 25 of the 97 Grand County positions she looked at “needed to be adjusted,” to bring those employees’ salaries to on par with what their peers were making in similar positions.

The discrepancy in salary ranged from $234 to $4,056 below what employees in other counties are earning, Robertson said.

In early April, she presented her findings to the county council.

While concerned about employee morale and retention, the council members voted 6-1 to not adjust those salaries.

“I support this issue, but it needs to be done during budget time,” said council member Jim Nyland. “Reopen the budget? I’m going to be hard-pressed to do that.”

Council chairman Gene Ciarus said times were still tough financially for the county, and he couldn’t with a “broad brush” approve across-the-board raises.

But council member Audrey Graham said the only fair way to adjust salaries of those who need it is all at once. She was the lone vote at that meeting in favor of adjusting the salaries.

“It’s hard for me to think some of our employees aren’t in a fair place,” she said. “I’m concerned when some employees are making the market value and some are not. There’s nothing worse for morale than that.”

In 2008, the county did evaluate each employee’s job classification and made adjustments as necessary.

“They got everyone where they thought they should be but didn’t follow through with the performance evaluations, so (the salaries) fell below again,” Robertson said. “Nobody was keeping up with it.”

The county relies on its performance evaluation program to give raises. The program has been up and running again since Jan. 1, Robertson said. Employees are eligible for a pay increase based on requirements such as work performance and attendance every other year and for an increase based on exemplary work the alternating year. The latter is difficult to get, Robertson said. Most employees average a pay raise every other year. Salary increases average about 3 percent, Robertson said.

But since performance evaluations weren’t done for several years, the county has some catching up to do, Graham said.

“Some (salaries) aren’t very far behind and some are quite a ways behind,” she said. “That’s a situation.”

Council member Chris Baird said he’s almost certain the job reclassification – and salary increase – will happen. He’s just not sure when.

“Approving this expense outside of the context of actually budgeting for it is not something that happens very often and probably not something that should happen,” he said. “The big issue is it’s obviously an ongoing expense, so we have to be able to pay for it in an ongoing way. We have to figure out a way to create it as an operational expense.”