Making the case for local control
Teak J. Simonton, the chairwoman of the State Salary Commission, outlined some of the provisions of a legislative resolution that asks voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would shift authority over salaries of local elected officials to the county level.
The commission comprises 13 elected officials from across the state who make recommendations to the House and Senate local government committees.
• “Increases for each type of elected position would be different, but in all cases, the flexibility would be completely controlled within each county.”
• “The process by which salaries would be set would include a recommendation from a bi-partisan citizen’s commission in each county.”
• “Each county could develop a transparent approach involving the citizenry in open public meetings.”
• “Economically strapped counties would not be required to make any salary increases at all.”
• “County’s with economic vitally, or high cost of living, in line with other employee increases.”
Steamboat Springs Routt County’s elected public officials won’t see passage this year of a late bill that would have given them pay raises after the 2014 general election, but there’s a separate effort underway at the state Legislature that would completely overhaul the current system for increasing compensation for county commissioners, county clerks, sheriffs and more.
A Senate resolution now being considered would ask voters to amend the state constitution to allow counties to establish their own salaries for elected county officials. It would direct the general assembly mandate the creation of citizens commissions in each county for the purpose of evaluating the salaries of elected county officers biennially and making recommendations to the county commissioners. In addition to county commissioners, clerks and sheriffs, it would include treasurers, assessors, coroners and surveyors.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed in April a request from four elected officials here to make a plea to the state Legislature to consider a late bill that would pave the way for their first pay increase since 2007. However, Commission Chairman Tim Corrigan confirmed Tuesday that it won’t happen this year.
“It’s dead,” Corrigan said. “Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino would not afford it late-bill status, and it was never brought to consideration.”
Presently, compensation for the different elected officials is determined by a system that categorizes Colorado’s counties by population, total assessed valuation and population growth.
Routt currently is among 20 Category 3 counties along with Rio Blanco, San Miguel, Grand, Gunnison, Montrose and Moffat, among others.
Just ahead of Routt, in Category 2, where elected county officials earn higher salaries, are counties such as Fremont Mesa, Summit, La Plata, Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield.
County commissioners, county clerks and assessors in Category 2 counties earn $72,500 compared to the $58,500 in Category 3. Sheriffs earn $87,700 instead of $76,000.
The local elected officials that came to the county commissioners in April reasoned they had not seen cost-of-living increases since 2008, and in some cases, their second and third in command were making more than they were.
“Twenty percent of my staff earns more than I do, and if their step raises continue, it will be three out of 10 next year,” County Assessor Gary Peterson said April 9.
The language of the resolution, which would put the question to voters, notes that with the salaries of county officers tied to statute, they are “infrequently modified,” and that in turn serves as a deterrent to some candidates who might otherwise seek public service.
Peterson said Tuesday that he thinks the constitutional amendment, if passed, would remove the question of pay raises for elected officials from the politically charged legislative process, but he wasn’t overly optimistic about its fate.
“I certainly have hope for it, but I would say it is a long shot,” Peterson said. “Three-quarters of the Senate and the House have to vote for it just to get it to the ballot. Depending on how it gets worded, I just think the public might have a hard time understanding it. I have no idea how the public is going to perceive it.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1