The Jackson Town Council on Monday night approved 2.5% wage increases across the board for all town staff, along with one-time bonuses intended to show appreciation for staff, who continually adapted through numerous challenges during the past two pandemic-addled years.

The 2.5% pay raise mirrors action taken by the Teton County Board of County Commissioners recently in giving county staff pay increases after the completion of a commissioned wage study. In addition to town staff, the action Monday includes the town covering its portion of 2.5% pay raises for employees of joint town-county departments, of which the town covers 45% while the county covers 55% of the cost.

Town Manager Larry Pardee, who presented the item to the council, said the town had begun its process to seek a consultant to conduct a similar wage study for the town to determine its competitiveness in the job market and to see where town wages should stand. Pardee said he expected that study to be completed in six to eight months.

Larry Pardee

Larry Pardee

“We see this as an interim step to help us continue to maintain in retention and recruitment [of staff] and thank our great organization for the job they’re doing in light of the challenges from COVID, shortage of staff and so on,” Pardee said.

The total cost to the town to finish out the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, would be approximately $210,000. Of that, $150,000 would be for town employee pay increases and $60,000 to cover the town’s 45% share of the joint town-county employees’ raises, according to a staff report.

Noting that the town is $3 million ahead of projected collections to this point in the fiscal year, Councilor Jonathan Schechter proposed one-time bonuses of $1,000 net for all full-time employees who were with the town for all of 2021, and $750 net for employees who were with the town for a portion of the year, as well as part-time employees. Schechter clarified he would like the bonuses to be net and not gross, meaning the town will cover all related taxes and the employees will receive the full amount of the bonus checks.

“I think we’ve got the financial capability, and we certainly asked people to sacrifice an awful lot during the COVID year,” Schechter said when asking Pardee what the additional cost to the town would be to provide such one-time bonuses. “While money is not a substitute for quality of life issues, it’s also not nothing.”

Schechter, along with other councilors and Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson, in supporting the wage increases and bonuses, on multiple occasions referred to an email written by Pardee to town staff and the council in which Pardee detailed staff stresses and hardships over the past year or more.

“In these first few days of the year, I have heard from various staff members from across the organization who are really struggling. The number of stressors we all face are immense, and somewhat unbelievably, they seem to just continue to build,” Pardee wrote in the email.

Pardee also empowered town employees to say “no” when they have been stretched too thin, as many staffers have had to take on multiple roles in addition to their normal duties as the town has operated short-staffed since a hiring freeze was instituted at the onset of the pandemic. Some positions have since been refilled in the current budget year, but the town continues to operate at less than its normal employee numbers. Pardee encouraged staff to take care of their personal wellbeing and to “not let ‘the perfect be the enemy of the good.’ ”

Finance Director Kelly Thompson estimated the cost of the one-time bonuses proposed by Schechter to be in the neighborhood of $170,000. Meanwhile, Councilor Jessica Sell Chambers suggested that instead of spending that money on bonus checks, the wage increase could be bumped up to 5% for town employees — excluding the town-county joint employees — for about the same cost.

However, Morton Levinson pointed out, “The only difference I see there is it would be a higher reoccurring cost every year.”

Jessica Sell Chambers 2020 mug

Jessica Sell Chambers

Councilor Jim Rooks, who made the motion to approve the 2.5% increase — separate from Schechter’s bonus suggestion — expressed his appreciation for the staff’s work and recognition of that, as did Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen and the rest of the council. Rooks and Jorgensen, though, urged caution and prudence as the town experiences an unexpected financial windfall that might not sustain added recurring expenditures.

“When we approved our current budget, we knew we were doing so in a deficit kind of situation,” the vice mayor said.

He added, alluding to ongoing “Future Financing of Local Government” deliberations the council has had since last spring, “We’ve been diligent over the last eight months about looking very, very closely at reoccurring revenues and what does that picture look like. This is more of the same. ... This is not sustainable as our current financial situation is structured.”

Chambers, though, stuck to her guns on her request for the 5% pay raise, saying that 2.5% was “the bare minimum,” and she’s “concerned that if we don’t do more now, that we could lose employees or staff, just given the financial situation that everyone in the valley appears to be in more and more, just with all of the forces that we know. We’ve already had issues with staff leaving the town for the county. ... Can we ever not match the county’s salaries and not experience the same kind of exodus?”

Chambers added that she doesn’t see the sales tax revenue boon going away, adding, “in fact, I think it’s just going to increase.”

Pardee, though, noted that wages are just one facet of several included in the town’s commissioned study and said even if it seems like a lag, wages can be further increased in the next fiscal year beginning in July through the budget process.

“At the end of the day, our staff is so thankful and grateful for the opportunity to work with you all — the five elected officials; Mayor Morton Levinson and the council — and this community,” the town manager told the council. “The work they’ve done the last year, the last 24 months, particularly in light of COVID, it’s impressive and I’m thankful. And I know they [town staff] will appreciate anything and everything that you are interested in discussing about their compensation and/or bonuses.”

After more back-and-forth discussion, the council voted unanimously to approve Rooks’ motion in favor of the 2.5% wage increases across the board, and likewise with Schechter’s motion for the net one-time bonuses.

“I think we’ve got the financial capability, and we certainly asked people to sacrifice an awful lot during the COVID year.” — Jonathan Schechter Town Councilor

Contact Tim Woods at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.
.
The News&Guide welcomes comments from our paid subscribers. Tell us what you think. Thanks for engaging in the conversation!

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.