Steamboat Springs When the new Routt County Commissioner starts work in January, that person might want to take fellow commissioners Nancy Stahoviak and Doug Monger out to a nice lunch.
Thanks to House Bill 1295, signed into law by Gov. Bill Owens in April, elected county officials across Colorado will receive pay increases in 2007, on a scale primarily adjusted according to county population. In Routt County, elected officials including the commissioners, assessor, clerk and recorder, and treasurer, will receive a salary of $58,500 in 2007. The new Routt County Sheriff, either Democrat Gary Wall or Republican Garrett Wiggins, will make $76,000 per year, compared to $65,000 per year for current sheriff John Warner.
The increased salaries only apply to newly elected officials, however, meaning Stahoviak and Monger will continue making $41,700 per year until, and unless, they are re-elected in 2008.
During the first year on the job, either Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush or Republican Paul Strong will make nearly $17,000 more than Stahoviak or Monger. Stahoviak began serving as a county commissioner in January 1993. Monger began in January 2001. Commissioner Dan Ellison is retiring after 12 years of service.
"I love it that we'll get paid less than the new commissioner we're training," Stahoviak joked. "That's why they call it public service."
Monger responded to the pay difference philosophically.
"Life is what life is," he said Tuesday with a grin, leaning back in his chair at the Routt County Courthouse Annex. "We deal with the cards that are dealt to us."
Strong said he is aware of the legislation, and does not think the pay difference will negatively impact the board of commissioners if he is elected.
"I don't think it will put any strain on things," said Strong, who has worked with the commissioners frequently during his seven years on the Steamboat Springs City Council. "We've had a great working relationship and we always have. When you sign up to be county commissioner, you understand what the rules are. It's just the nature of the job."
Mitsch Bush has also worked closely with the commissioners, serving on the Routt County Planning Commission for 10 years, including nine years as its vice-chair. She said she was not aware of the pay increase for elected officials.
"I didn't know about that," she said Friday. "I just didn't pay attention to it. I figured whatever (the salary) was, it was, and I didn't really care. The pay scale doesn't matter to me - I just want to be a county commissioner."
Mitsch Bush said that if she is elected, she will address the topic with Stahoviak and Monger.
"It makes me a little uncomfortable," she said. "I would want to be very open in bringing up the topic with both of them and saying: 'Look, I didn't have anything to do with this.' It's all the more reason to focus on the fact that I will be a full-time commissioner, regardless of the pay."
Mitsch Bush, a retired sociology professor, has emphasized her ability to serve as a commissioner full-time. Strong is a certified public accountant. He said that if he is elected, he does not plan to close his accounting business, but will hire an assistant and reduce his hours in the office.
Routt County Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon is running unopposed for re-election, as is Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland. Whiddon, Weinland, and Routt County Assessor Amy Williams currently make about $50,000 a year, Whiddon said. Whiddon makes an additional $12,000 as the county's public trustee.
The new, $58,000 salary will apply in January 2007 to Weinland, Whiddon, and one of the three candidates for assessor - Democrat Mike Kerrigan, Republican Dick Klumker or unaffiliated Nancy Terry.
Salaries for county elected officials in Colorado can only be changed by state law.
"It does inhibit the local people from setting the salaries for their elected officials," said Stahoviak, a former Oak Creek treasurer and Town Board member. "I've been serving my county for 28 years, and ($41,700) is more than I've made anywhere else. I get to do what I love and get paid for it."