Our View: Salary requests reasonable

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Editorial Board, Sept. 25, 2011, to January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss last week’s request by some elected officials in Routt County to look at salary increases for their positions.

Taxpayers aren’t likely to have much sympathy for elected officials in this economy. And as Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush rightly noted, elected officials “knew what the salaries were when (they) were elected.”

But we want elected officials who are compensated fairly and well enough to attract strong candidates to run for office. In that vein, it’s certainly reasonable to ask whether Routt County should be reclassified by the state for the purpose of paying its elected officials.

It’s important to note that a state legislator would have to seek that reclassification for the county and, if the reclassification occurred, the new salaries would not take effect until the next elected term for any official.

This issue arose when five elected officials appeared before the Routt County Board of Commissioners to initiate a discussion about salaries. The officials included Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland, Coroner Rob Ryg, Assessor Gary Peterson, Treasurer and Public Trustee Jeanne Whiddon and Sheriff Garrett Wiggins.

As it stands, Routt County is in the third of six categories used by the state for setting salaries. There are 19 counties in that classification, including Grand, Gunnison, Moffat, Montrose and Delta.

Moving Routt County up to Category 2 would put it with most of the state’s other ski resorts, which tend to have higher costs of living. The counties in Category 2 include Eagle, Fremont, Garfield, La Plata, Mesa, Pitkin and Summit. Only Pitkin County has a smaller population than Routt; still, it’s not much of a stretch to pay our elected officials comparably to what officials in Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Durango are being paid.

A change in classification would mean more than $10,000 per year for most officials. For example, sheriffs in Category 3 earn $76,000 compared with $87,700 in Category 2. County commissioners, the treasurer, the clerk and the assessor would go from $58,500 to $72,500, and the county coroner would go from $33,100 to $44,200.

It would cost the county about $125,000 per year to move up a category.

Elected officials always are taking a risk when they ask for more money, especially when the pay increase won’t take effect until the next election cycle. But setting emotion aside, this is the state’s process. It’s certainly reasonable for elected officials to use that process to seek fair salaries.

We see nothing wrong with the county asking our state legislators to review Routt County’s salary classification. Routt County compares favorably with many of the counties in Category 2. And if reclassification does occur, those who oppose the salary changes have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

"Only Pitkin County has a smaller population than Routt; still, it’s not much of a stretch to pay our elected officials comparably to what officials in Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Durango are being paid."

You guys just ran an article on how housing costs are so much higher in Aspen/Pitkin county. So then Routt would be the smallest in Category 2 except for the county with really outrageous housing prices.

Fellow category 3 counties Moffat and Grand are hardly unfair comparisons to Routt. Grand has an entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park which is a substantial tourist attraction. Moffat has more oil and gas than Routt.

The county elected officials are relatively well paid. The reason that there are not contested elections for all offices is because some of the people have been highly competent and have not pursued partisan policies for their basically administrative offices.

And political offices are typically pursued by people that want political power and not high pay. Would Sheriff Wiggins gladly resign as Sheriff to become a higher paid under sheriff? Would a county commissioner like to resign to become the finance director? When there is some evidence that pay levels are affecting local politics then it would be time to consider lobbying for a pay hike. As of now there is no problem and no reason to lobby for a pay hike.

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spidermite 3 years, 1 month ago

Scott, I think they just compose articles like this when their is nothing else to get folks fired-up about. Your comment was excellent.

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rhys jones 3 years, 1 month ago

I agree with Scott and spider. Those folks are doing just fine as it is. Had I known government could be so lucrative, I might have reconsidered long ago. But Jeffco told me I was too smart to be a cop, I'd get bored, so there went that door.

I can't claim to be representative of the private sector, but requests for more money from our "public servants" fall on my deaf ears, when they are already making several times what I am. I think they are ALL overpaid as it is.

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rhys jones 3 years, 1 month ago

I guess what I'm saying is, I could do ANY of their jobs, right now, better than they could ALL do mine, after a year in school each; I do it for a fraction of the money, and THEY want more from ME?? Hu hu, they're barking up the wrong tree.

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sledneck 3 years, 1 month ago

I too agree with Scott here. I also agree with the quote from Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush. They knew the salaries when they took the job. I would simply add: The door swings both ways. Some time in the real world might be just the fresh air they need. The poll on the Pilot website seems to indicate most people do not share the views of the Pilot on this.

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the_Lizard 3 years, 1 month ago

I wouldn't be as opposed to salary hikes if there were term limits for elected officials.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 1 month ago

I do not think they are all overpaid. But the premise of the elected officials and the newspaper opinion are both fundamentally flawed.

There is absolutely nothing wrong or unfair with some of a department's skilled staff making more than the boss. It happens all the time in skilled jobs where the skills of the employee are worth more than the manager's skills. The skills to accurately assess these complex resort condo hotels and be able to stand up to their homeowner's association lawyers and experts seeking lower valuations is not something the elected assessor should be expected to be able to handle. But there should be someone being paid by the county that can do that. Those assessor valuation skills are simply rarer and more valuable than those required to be the elected assessor.

Nor is there any evidence that qualified people are not running for county elected office. The coroner's office had numerous candidates in the last election. CC elections have featured some uncontested elections only because the incumbent has been considered competent and the other party had no good qualified candidates to challenge. Assessor and Treasurer appear to be both well run offices and there is no obvious reason to replace either with presumably a less qualified person.

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spidermite 3 years, 1 month ago

Scott, The treasures office does appear to be well run. I don't agree with you about the assessors office. Their are to many discrepancys in their property evaluations. Mr. Peterson has been in office long enough to be accountable for these oversights. Now his priority appears to be obtaining a salary increase.

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sledneck 3 years, 1 month ago

Most of us have heard the comparison made about Warren Buffet's taxes vs. his secretary's taxes as a way to argue that Mr Buffet's taxes are too low. I would suggest that an equal argument could be made that his secretary's taxes are too high.

Same could be true here. Instead of Routt salaries being too low, maybe the Pitkin salaries are too high???

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spidermite 3 years, 1 month ago

The new web site for the assessors office is impressive. Several "pretend" AG property will be experiencing tax increases. One property, that has never been used as AG and isn't even fenced , will go from approx. $500.00 a year to over $6,000.00 a year. It's about time.

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