Denver’s staffing shortage means most city workers are getting a $600 bonus this year

City Council approved the bonuses Monday, and aim to get checks out by Friday.
3 min. read
Denver’s City and County Building. Aug. 10, 2021. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

If you work for the city, you could be getting a $600 bonus at the end of the month.

On Monday, City Council approved the one-time bonuses for eligible staff. According to the bill, the bonuses are "in appreciation for their dedication and service in 2022, when staffing shortages continued to impact departments and agencies across the city, often at the expense of the city workforce."

It's the second pandemic-era bonus for city workers. In 2021, Denver gave $400 bonuses to employees who got the COVID-19 vaccine, and additional pay to people who had to work in-person at least 50% of the time, or physically handle items touched by others during the height of the outbreak. Some employees have also received double overtime pay, temporary retention bonuses, hiring bonuses and pay adjustments in response to staffing issues.

Where will the money come from?

Around 8,300 of the city's more than 11,000 employees are eligible for the bonuses, which will cost around $6 million. City Council's measure will cover around 5,700 employees, costing around $4.2 million. The Department of Human Services and other agencies like the airport will administer bonuses separately.

The money will come from savings across the city due to vacant roles that remained unfilled. The Sheriff's department will contribute the most money, at $1.4 million.

Budget Director Stephanie Karayannis Adams said at a committee meeting that the money would likely go unused if council hadn't approved the bonuses because there is not enough time for the city government to approve contracts for other projects before the end of the year.

"We're confident that the dollars we're talking about are not likely to be able to be spent, not because we don't want to but because of the timing we have left in the fiscal year," she said.

Who is eligible?

Employees must have been continuously employed by the city since at least Sept. 30 of this year and still be employed when the bonuses go out by Dec. 30 at the latest. The bonuses include full- and part-time employees, but do not include on-call employees who have worked fewer than 30 hours per week in the past 12 months.

Uniformed members of the Fire Department, Sheriff Department and Police Department are ineligible because they have their own collective bargaining agreements that dictate pay and benefits. Judges, magistrates, board and commission members and unpaid volunteers are also excluded. For elected and appointed staff, eligibility depends on the department and role.

How bad were the staffing shortages?

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the city began to see revenue loss and froze hiring for vacant positions. Staffing shortages were also compounded by the great resignation, as many workers quit their jobs during the pandemic. According to data from the city, average vacancy rates have gone down since the start of 2022 but remain higher than typical pre-pandemic levels for many city agencies.

"In many instances, employees have not been able to take time off or had to work extra hours," wrote the Finance and Governance Committee in a presentation on the bonuses last month.

The presentation also cited a "loss of institutional knowledge" and a lack of "support from colleagues to succeed in new promotional roles."

"This sounds like something that would be very much appreciated by our employees, and I'm appreciative of the fact that we have the resources to be able to do it," said Councilwoman Debbie Ortega during the committee meeting.

The city plans to give checks out by this Friday or at least by Dec. 30.

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