Summit County’s 2023 budget could include $3 million to attract workers |

Summit County’s 2023 budget could include $3 million to attract workers

Interim County Manager Janna Young recommends a 10% cost-of-living adjustment to address recruitment, retention

Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

It’s been a challenge for Summit County to fill its ranks this year as a labor shortage persists, but an additional $3 million included in the 2023 budget could help attract workers and keep them longer.

Interim County Manager Janna Young told the Summit County Council the 10% cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, will allow the county to prioritize employees as it addresses ongoing issues such as a degraded applicant pool and high turnover rates. 

“This can be a scary number at first glance. I understand the concerns that you most likely have, because I have them too,” Young said during Wednesday’s Council meeting. “Often, we are put in a position where we need to make some tough decisions and I honestly feel like I would not be doing my job if I did not bring this forward to you for discussion and consideration.”

Young continued, “One thing that keeps me up at night since I’ve been in the interim manager role, and as I look to the future, is our ability as a local government to survive in a community that is extremely expensive to live (in) and seemingly getting more so every year. I have these questions about how we can provide a high level of services that our residents and visitors expect and deserve if we cannot maintain a professional, skilled and dedicated workforce.”

One way the county can keep the high-quality staff it needs is through a COLA, Young said. 

Utah is experiencing around 13% inflation compared to 8% nationwide. This means the cost of items such as gasoline, rent and groceries are rising and impacting where people decide to live and work. More employees are forced to move outside of the county because they cannot afford housing, Young said, which often leads to longer commutes and people looking for opportunities closer to home.

She argued the adjustment would help Summit County compete with nearby jurisdictions. The county offered a 4% COLA to some employees in 2022 while neighboring areas provided 6% to workers. Summit County is already behind heading into 2023, Young said. Meanwhile, a 10.5% COLA was adopted by Park City Municipal, an 11% COLA was enacted in Davis County, and the Utah Highway Patrol’s most recent COLA was 15%. 

Summit County’s turnover rate is also the highest it’s been in 10 years at around 14% and people are staying for less time. Fewer applications are coming in, too. Around 11 applications are received per advertisement compared to 29 on average over the last decade.

“That’s pretty bad news for us and it highlights the need to keep the talented folks that we have,” Young said.

The County Council must also consider how costly turnover can be. Young noted that training employees can be expensive, particularly for essential workers. There was board support for the COLA from the county’s departments, she said. In some cases, she added, department heads deferred other needs to help fund the retention effort. 

“We’re a service-oriented organization. What that means is our employees are our business and make up the largest part of our budget,” Young explained.

She recommended an overall budget of nearly $72 million in operating funds, which is just more than an 8% increase compared to last year and less than the state’s inflation rate. 

Matt Leavitt, the county’s financial officer, emphasized the themes of recruitment and retention in the proposed budget. It allocates funding for nine full-time positions, four of which would be fully funded by grants or fees. The proposed roles include a permit technician, an economic development and housing specialist, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist, a public lands coordinator and more. 

Staffers also advised the County Council to consider the unknowns of several topics that are unresolved. 

Officials are still debating the future of the emergency medical services system, and if and how short-term rentals should be regulated. The status of many current and future federal grants is also unknown. Young also warned there are signs of an economic downturn.

The County Council did not vote on the budget on Wednesday. The meeting marked the start of the deliberations that are scheduled to occur between October and December. Officials recognized the need to retain employees but asked for more information, such as if it’s possible to determine what departments are losing the most employees, where workers are going, and the cost associated with turnover, before they could fully support the COLA.

Public hearings are scheduled for Dec. 7 on the East Side and Dec. 14 in the Snyderville Basin.

Summit County

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