County payroll leads with attorney

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— Routt County has released the numbers on its top-10 wage earners for 2000, and County Attorney John Merrill heads the list.

Most of the top 10 are department heads for the county.

"Please note the commissioners are not part of that elite

list," joked Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak.

The county commissioners set the pay scale for county employees, while the county commissioners' pay is set by the state Legislature.

The Routt County commissioners, known statewide for their intense work and long hours, showed no jealousy.

"We have good department heads and we want to keep them," Commissioner Dan Ellison said.

Commissioners Stahoviak and Doug Monger said the same thing.

"When I was elected I knew it was public service," Stahoviak said.

Before Jan. 9, Stahoviak was only making $33,000 a year.

"I think Nancy said a third of the county employees make more than us," laughed Monger.

Personnel Director Chris Hensen said that was likely true until this January when re-elected and newly elected commissioners got a raise to $41,700.

"I worked in public service for 16 years without pay, so this is a bonus," Stahoviak said about her salary.

In the meantime, Merrill said he was grateful for his paycheck.

"I'm a good lawyer, but there's a lot of good lawyers that don't make that money," he said.

Merrill has come a long way. He said he started off at $35,000 a year in 1991 as Routt County attorney.

He said he left a big law firm in Los Angeles where his former secretary made "significantly" more money than his Steamboat salary.

"I've never regretted it," said Merrill, who wanted a job that would let him spend more time with his family.

Coming in at No. 2 on the top 10 county money-makers was Human Services Director Bob White, whose colleagues said he deserves every penny of his $75,000 salary.

"He's a person who has a lot of vision and is a good leader," said Polly St. James, the attorney for Human Services. "The county is very lucky to have him."

Merrill confirmed that the county's "top 10" are far from the stereotypical bureaucrats or government workers that are often joked about.

"They are not 9-to-5-ers at all; they work far more than 40 hours a week," Merrill said.

Merrill specifically pointed to the directors at Finance, Road and Bridge and the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

"Dan Strnad (finance director) in my mind is incredible; he's got one of the most professional operations and staffs that I've seen," Merrill said.

Strnad is the third highest paid employee at the county at $72,000 a year, and his workers (and wife) confirm the accountant can be seen at work on the weekends and evenings, especially during budget time.

Merrill also praised Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper (No. 4 at $66,000) and his

main engineer, Louis Gabos (No. 7 at $64,000) for the hardest jobs.

"Somehow, he (Draper) keeps all the balls in the air," Merrill said.

"Lou (Gabos) is one of those guys you come in at 7 in the morning, he's here. You go home at 6, he's here."

St. James said she was surprised to find herself in the top 10 at $59,000 a year.

"I could make more in private practice, but I would not consider it," St. James said.

St. James handles all the social services legal work, including child support enforcement and child abuse cases.

She said the county commissioners have created a real team spirit within the county and make it fun to work.

"Most county employees believe they're here to serve the public, and that adds value to what you do every day," St. James said.

Personnel Director Chris Hensen is also one of those employees who can be seen working late hours.

Hensen is at No. 9, making $55,000 a year.

She started off at $13,500 a year as a deputy clerk in 1983.

"We were underpaid for years, but they've (commissioners) done a lot to bring us up," Hensen said.

"I'm very happy with what I'm doing, until I retire."

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