Steamboat Springs The consensus among the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday was that if and when the time arrives to ask the state to reclassify the county to allow for higher salaries for elected officials, it would be best if one of the state legislators from the region carried the ball.
A group of five other elected officials appeared before the commissioners to make the case that the disparity between their own salaries and those of appointed officials is too great. The officials included Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland, Coroner Rob Ryg, Assessor Gary Peterson, Treasurer and Public Trustee Jeanne Whiddon and Sheriff Garrett Wiggins.
Wiggins said that if his undersheriff and lieutenant were being paid at the top of their respective salary ranges (they aren’t at that level presently), both would earn more than he does.
“One example of this disparity is when comparing the current county sheriff’s salary to the second- and third-in-command positions’ top-out salary,” Wiggins said. “The second-in-command, or the undersheriff, salary cap is $94,307, and the sheriff’s salary is set (by state law) at $76,000.”
The third in command, or lieutenant, someday could earn as much as $79,290, Wiggins said.
Although Wiggins still is paid more than his top aides, that’s not the case in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, where Weinland’s chief deputy earns more than she does.
Peterson said he consulted with Finance Director Dan Strnad to confirm that the aggregate effect on the county’s payroll of moving the pay scale for elected officials up a notch would be in the range of $125,000 annually.
County attorney John Merrill told the commissioners that state law prevents the salaries of elected officials from being increased midterm. However, the law also requires the Legislature to appoint a commission (including two county commissioners from across the state) to review the salaries of officials biannually to ensure they are equitable.
The counties are grouped in six classifications of differing pay scales based on figures including population, total assessed valuation and the number of building permits. The law provides that a state legislator can sponsor a bill to change the classification of a county in their jurisdiction.
The five elected officials said that on average, appointed department directors earn a little more than $94,000 each and that they, taking the commissioner salaries of $58,500 into account, earn just more than $59,000.
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush had the strongest reaction to the five elected officials who broached the subject of higher pay rates but also acknowledged that they had made her aware of how great the disparity is.
“When I saw this, I was uncomfortable,” she said. “I think it’s unseemly for us as elected officials to be thinking about this right now. We knew what the salaries were when we were elected.”
The commissioners and the other five elected officials agreed that the matter is made more sensitive by the fact county employees’ pay has been reduced 5 percent from three years ago.
Whiddon and Peterson emphasized that they are not seeking pay raises at this time but rather areproviding research to make their case when the local economy is stronger.
“We pride ourselves on working with the entire Routt County family, and we realize how sensitive this is,” Whiddon said. “We’re not asking for salary reclassification at this time. We want to provide the groundwork for when it’s more economically feasible.”
Ryg said he was not too shy to ask for a pay raise.
“To me, this is a common-sense issue,” he said. “We’re not asking for the moon here.”
Commissioner Doug Monger agreed with Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak that a legislator such as State Sen. Jean White would have to move a reclassification bill forward.
“When I first heard about this, I was pretty much shocked. It seemed like a bad time,” Commissioner Doug Monger said. “But I think you guys have brought forth some very valid information. As we talk about having competent people in the departments, I sure wouldn’t sit here and be opposed. But I wouldn’t campaign for it.”
Any pay raise would not affect Stahoviak, who is completing her final year as a commissioner and will not seek re-election. After the meeting, she said it always would be more desirable if elected officials who are in line for a pay raise had to run for re-election to attain that higher salary.
By the numbers
■ County management salaries
Road and Bridge director: $104,292
County attorney: $104,292
Finance director: $104,292
Public/environmental health director: $98,844
Airport manager: $98,844
Internet services director: $96,132
Purchasing/building director: $93,888
Building official: $93,888
Human resources director: $93,888
Human services director: $87,984
Planning director: $86,532
Communications director: $84,072
Emergency services director: $79,164
■ Elected officials' salaries
Treasurer/public trustee: $71,000
County commissioners: $58,500
County clerk: $58,500
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com