It’s a safe bet that some city taxpayers are grumbling about the City Council’s decision to award raises to the city manager and the city attorney for the third time in three years.
But, in our view, the city is wise to make yearly adjustments to City Manager Greg Caton’s salary. It’s a fairly simple concept that has been slow to take root in the Grand Valley: If you want to attract and retain a good workforce, you have to be willing to pay for it.
Under Caton’s guidance, the city has managed to take care of its infrastructure — even with limited resources in some lean years — and still nurture economic development within the valley. He’s compiled an impressive list of achievements that would make him a solid candidate for a better paying executive position somewhere else. Awarding raises that keep his compensation competitive with similar jobs in similar-sized towns in Colorado is the cost of consistency.
Consider that the Mesa County metro area had the highest increase in per capita personal income in the state in 2018. It grew 6.4 percent compared to 2017, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That metric alone could justify a raise. A rising tide lifts all boats, including the city’s top administrator.
But Caton has been in the thick of initiatives and partnerships to facilitate development in the city, which factor into recent economic performance. We’re not saying he’s responsible for wage gains — just that he’s recognized the city’s role in setting the table for a prosperous economy.
So, rather than bad-mouthing the city for handing out raises like Halloween candy, perhaps we should understand the City Council’s motivation and look to emulate the results.
For decades, lagging wages were just accepted as the price of living in western Colorado. Thankfully, that’s changing. As the Sentinel’s Joe Vaccarelli reported recently, Grand Junction has seen some of the highest wage growth in the country in the last two years. And it’s not because employers are feeling generous.
We have a growing labor force despite having low unemployment. That means that people are coming from elsewhere — particularly the Front Range — to fill jobs. And they’re bringing their salary expectations with them. Many employers are coming around to what the city has embraced: a willingness to pay a higher wage to get the best available talent.
Hopefully this trend will put an end to a long-held selling point in the valley — that we have a cheap labor pool. That hasn’t served us well, particularly in the education field. How many great educators gave up trying to survive on a meager salary? Many depend on a spouse’s good-paying job to stay in the trenches.
Hopefully, economic gains in the valley — and taxpayer support for improving the school district — will allow School District 51 to pay the kind of salaries that attract the best and brightest teachers to the valley.
The quality of our workforce is everything. If you want to compete in a global economy, you have to pay. Let’s not throw rocks at the City Council for recognizing this fundamental truth.