Our View: Salary requests reasonable
November 19, 2011
Steamboat Springs — 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.