Commissioners approve salary increase for officials
December 11, 2015
The Grand County Board of Commissioners has voted to let stand a 30 percent increase in elected official salaries that was passed by the legislature earlier this year.
Senate Bill 288 sets an automatic pay increase of 30 percent for all of the state's elected county officials.
Counties have the option to opt out of the bill entirely or select a smaller of 10 or 20 percent, though to make such a change requires that a state senator introduce another piece of legislation for the county.
Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law in June.
Because the law takes effect Jan. 1, 2016, no officials currently in office will be affected by the increase.
The first elected officials to receive the increase will be the county commissioners elected for districts one and two in 2016.
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For the remaining elected offices, the increase will take effect after the 2019 election.
Once the increases take effect, the Grand County commissioners, clerk and recorder, treasurer and assessor will receive a yearly salary of $76,050, the county sheriff will receive $98.800, the county coroner will receive $43,030 and the county surveyor will receive $4,290.
In some counties including Grand County, the treasurer receives an additional $12,500 work stipend for performing the duties of public trustee.
Elected officials in Colorado have not received salary increases, including cost of living adjustments, since 2007.
During the commissioners' Dec. 8 meeting, Commissioner Merrit Linke said that anecdotally there was wide support for the increase among county governments.
"From what I'm gathering, most of the other counties are, at least our neighboring counties and counties that are similar to us, are going to go ahead with what the legislature voted on to do," Linke said.
Linke added that "every single other elected official" in Grand County indicated that they supported the 30 percent raise.
As of June 30, the county sheriff position received around $950 less per month than the county under sheriff, according to the county's August salary publications
"I agree that you have to pay people to attract good people, and it is discouraging when your subordinates makes more than you do if you're already at the top of the organizational chart and there's no chance to make more," said Commissioner Jane Tollett.
While Tollett and Linke voted in favor of the increase, Commissioner Kris Manguso dissented.
Manguso said that, while she supported salary increases for elected officials, she didn't feel the increase was warranted given the county's budgetary constraints.
The commissioners reined in discretionary spending in the county's 2016 budget after the former finance director warned that past board choices to spend down fund balances were pushing the county toward insolvency.
"I'm at a zero because of our budget constraints, because of what we're going to have to do," Manguso said.
Manguso instead suggested introducing a new bill in two years if the county's budget situation improved.
"I guess my point again would be if we get our budget, if we get our house in order in two years before it takes place for all the (elected officials), then we can go back and raise it up," Manguso said.
That would mean the two new commissioners giving up their salary increases until 2021, with the first increases taking effect for all other officials in 2019.
Linke said that suggestion "doesn't seem fair either."
Kremmling resident Rich Rosene said he supported the 30 percent increase.
"I would say the chance of running another bill in two years or four years are practically zip," Rosene said.
Rosene also took issue with the fact that some appointed officials make significantly more than elected officials.
"It's just not right that there should be such a disparity between your department heads and the elected officials who are also department heads," Rosene said. "They have jurisdiction and hiring and firing authority in their departments, and they should be a lot closer to equivalent, and I just don't think there's any conscionable reason that you don't go to the 30 percent."
County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin called himself "very fortunate" in terms of his salary but said other elected officials like the county coroner seemed vastly underpaid.
Linke said he agreed with Rosene's skepticism that another bill could be introduced.
"They've spent a lot of mental anguish to come up with this bill, and I believe that it is probably a one shot thing, and I think we should accept what the legislature has done because I believe that's what those positions are worth," Linke said.
Manguso said she agreed but reiterated her previous concerns.
"My whole reason is budgetary," Manguso said. "I'm worried about our budget. I'm worried about our situation. That's the only reason I'm voting against this."
Tollett said she had confidence in the county's ability to balance its budget in the coming years.
"I am for it because I believe we're going to get the budget under control," Tollett said.
Linke dismisses county poll
During the board meeting, Linke seemed to dismiss a widely publicized public opinion poll on salary increases that the county conducted in September.
The commissioner cryptically referred to "a poll in the paper" that he did not believe provided "significant" results.
"I would like to throw out some disclaimers there," Linke said. "It says right on there this is for entertainment purposes only, and I can also tell you that it is possible to vote more than once on there, because I did it and I'm sure a lot of people probably did."
Though polls on the Sky-Hi News website do include such a disclaimer, the Sky-Hi News conducted no such poll. Linke was ostensibly referring to the county's own public opinion poll conducted on its website, which the Sky-Hi News publicized at the county's request.
In that poll, 44.8 percent of 310 respondents supported no change in salaries, while 37.1 percent supported a 30 percent increase. 13.5 percent supported a 10 percent increase.
While the disclaimer for that poll stated that "the BOCC would appreciate public input on this matter," it did not state that the poll was for entertainment purposes.
"I would reiterate that I don't believe that it was very scientific, and I don't think it's very accurate in terms of the true reflection of the desires of the community," Linke said of the county's poll.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.