When the next elected county officers start a new term in January 2023, their salaries will increase to $145,000, up from $100,000.
That 45% increase for all elected positions — except commissioners and coroner — was approved April 19 by the Teton County Board of County Commissioners, after the Wyoming Legislature voted to set a new officer salary range, leaving it up to counties to decide the exact salary.
Rep. Mike Yin, a Teton County Democrat, co-sponsored one of the bills that raised the county cap at the sate level. Yin told commissioners in April the adjustments were intended to correct for places like Teton County, where upper-level staff members could make more than their bosses.
“In that situation,” Yin said, “it may not behoove people to run for office.”
Although it’s still eight months before any pay stubs will change, the decision was made now so that people running for office — the candidate filing period is May 12-27 — would know their potential salaries.
But as county commissioners unanimously bumped up salaries for assessor, treasurer, clerk of district court, clerk, sheriff and county and prosecuting attorney to the high end of the new salary range, the county now faces a broader salary decision.
Teton County remains short-staffed, a problem some worry could worsen if salaries for other positions don’t offer competitive wages.
County Clerk Maureen Murphy said that other counties, especially commuter counties to Teton County, are looking at 7% to 12% cost-of-living adjustments this year. In Lincoln County, she said, commissioners had already approved a 10% increase.
Teton County commissioners have indicated they’ll raise salaries, but absent direction from the state as happened with the elected positions, they’re debating how much would be enough.
Work smarter, not harder
Given last year’s salary corrections and 2.5% pay adjustment in January, Commissioner Greg Epstein said, raising county salaries with taxpayer money would need to be done carefully for “optics to the community.”
Wages for 2022-23 will cost the county about $31.2 million. A 5% wage bump would increase that by $1.8 million, 7.5% by $2.5 million, and 10% by $3.6 million.
Commissioner Mark Newcomb wanted to reconcile raising wages with what he said was an already high pressure for commissioners to shrink the source of 24% of the county’s budget: property taxes.
“Is there a way we can accomplish what we need to do here with wages,” Newcomb said, “and try to get some productivity gains as well?”
Director of Public Works Heather Overholser assured commissioners her department is trying its best to be efficient and already struggling with turnover.
“When we lose people, it not only affects them, but it affects staff in a way that is really detrimental,” she said. “Those people are picking up the slack and feeling a level of stress that shouldn’t be on them.”
What about a stipend?
It didn’t take many exit interviews for Human Resources Director Dar Rhodes to figure out that lack of housing is one of the number one reasons people are leaving county jobs.
Rhodes, who started just a few months ago, told commissioners that while people moving from elsewhere would always have sticker shock in Teton County, any amount of pay increase would help with retention.
One way other organizations keep costs lower while easing that stress in a low-inventory housing market like Teton County is by providing a housing allowance, or stipend.
Stipends are a way to compensate all employees equally instead of proportionally, which winds up being less expensive.
Other organizations like the airport, said Anne Sutton, Clerk of the District Court, offer comparable starting pay and benefits to her office, but add an additional $1,000 monthly housing and transportation allowance for full-time employees.
It’s hard to compete with, Sutton said, and, to Newcomb’s point, increased housing stability would help with efficiency, too.
“Productivity can come when we retain employees,” she said. “My office can only maximize productivity when … they can be trained [for years].”
While commissioners didn’t discuss offering stipends, they acknowledged it was another factor they would need to compete with.
Spending less on searching for, training and onboarding employees, Commissioner Luther Propst said, sounded less expensive in the long run.
Similar to Mike Yin’s point about some bosses earning less than the employees they supervise, Jackson/Teton County Parks and Recreation Director Steve Ashworth reported recently losing supervisors who were making less than their team members. Expectations for starting wages are rising. Before the ink had dried on checks for $21 per hour, Ashworth said, Target came in with $24.
The lowest salaries at the county start at $43,502, which works out to $21 an hour for employees working 40 hours a week. Raising those wages, in turn, creates pressure to raise other salaries to prevent the pay of new hires from outpacing that of long-standing employees.
Teton County and Prosecuting Attorney Erin Weisman said keeping up with other government and industry pay was her department’s biggest issue. Weisman said she was losing people with stable housing who stayed in the community but left to work in the private sector and at the town of Jackson. Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said he’s losing staff who are moving to states with an all-around lower cost of living.
Considering national inflation, Propst said he’d consider a 10% salary increase.
“It’s 8.5% just to stay even,” he said.
Epstein said he wanted to see between a 5% and 7.5% increase, taking into account the 2.5% pay adjustment county employees already received in January. While Newcomb agreed they should look at no less than a 5% increase, he also wanted to consider 7.5% and 10% increases.
Commissioners will look at all three wage increase options when they meet Monday.
This article has been updated to correct the percent increase for salaries for elected positions — except commissioners and coroner — to 45%. The original article incorrectly cited a higher figure. — Eds.