County manager tells commission employee salaries may need to be addressed again this year

Mike Stark points to recent survey results that reveal dissatisfaction

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • County Manager Mike Stark discussed the results of the survey during the Feb. 1 County Commission meeting in Aztec.
  • Stark said pay is still the No. 1 concern of county employees despite the 3% raises they got last year.
  • Stark said commissioners can expect to see action plans being developed to deal with the issues identified in the survey results.

FARMINGTON — Despite laying out a 3% raise for all workers during last year's budgeting process, the San Juan County Commission could be faced with the prospect of doling out additional money for salaries this year after a large percentage of employees expressed dissatisfaction with their compensation in a recent survey.

County Manager Mike Stark discussed the results of the survey during the Feb. 1 County Commission meeting in Aztec. He said the anonymous survey, which is conducted every two years, is designed to gauge employee satisfaction and drew nearly as many responses this year — 211 — as it did in 2019, when 212 surveys were returned.

"That represents roughly a third of the employee base," he said.

Generally speaking, Stark said, survey results were the same as they were in 2019. But one area caught his attention, he said, and he wanted commissioners to be aware of it before they initiate the process of developing and approving a new budget over the next few months.

Family business:As teacher shortage continues, Farmington family touts life in classroom

Mike Stark

"Pay is still the No. 1 concern from our employees," he said, explaining that that answer was the most common answer in response to a question about what San Juan County should do to improve the workplace.

The 3% merit raises awarded to all county employees last year came after they had received only 3% cumulative raises over the previous five years, according to The Daily Times archives.

"As we head into the budget cycle, obviously this survey will be utilized not only for just generation opportunities for improvement here in the county … but also for budget perspectives," Stark said. "There may be some things that are necessary to bring to you relative to that."

More:NM unemployment rate drops below 6%, but still trails national rate

The county manager described the labor market as dynamic and competitive.

"There are lots of staffing shortages across lots of different industries, so I am by no means saying this is unique to local government," he said. "But definitely we're suffering and having some challenges."

Stark said he had visited extensively with county department heads earlier on Feb. 1 about the survey results, and he said commissioners can expect to see action plans being developed to deal with the issues identified in the survey results.

John Beckstead

Commissioner John Beckstead asked if it was possible for county officials to determine whether employees who expressed the most dissatisfaction were predominately employed by any specific county agency or department, or whether the employee dissatisfaction was being expressed on a countywide basis.

Stark responded by saying that a question that asked respondents to identify the department where they worked had been eliminated this year in an attempt to improve the response rate. Some county employees may have feared it would be easy for county officials to identify them just by their response to that question, he said, especially if they work in a small department.

"Which is absolutely not what we want to do," Stark said. "So this year, in an attempt to boost survey response, we pulled that question out."

More:New Mexico agency proposes four projects be undertaken with Gold King Mine settlement money

Even so, he said, county leaders understand that many of the concerns are coming from employees of the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, especially in regard to staffing levels and compensation. County officials have held several hiring fairs this year in an attempt to bring more employees aboard and shore up staffing at the institution.

Stark acknowledged staffing shortages are a legitimate issue at the center.

"We've been hit the hardest when it comes to staffing concerns there," he said.

But he said the concerns about compensation likely are not limited to the detention center or the San Juan County Sheriff's Office. Stark said even with a 3% across-the-board raise last year, all county employees have been negatively affected by an inflation rate that is running at approximately 7%.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.