Facing heavy workload, Steamboat City Council members could ask voters for pay raise | SteamboatToday.com

Facing heavy workload, Steamboat City Council members could ask voters for pay raise

After almost two-and-a-half hours of discussing other matters, Steamboat Springs City Council wrestled with increasing council members’ pay or possibly trying to reduce their heavy workload.

City Council’s work session on Tuesday, May 9, spanned almost 3.5 hours in total, and it came with an 118-page meeting packet. After lengthy discussions about affordable housing strategies, a potential recycling drop-off center and more, council members dove into the compensation rates offered to their own positions.

To help frame the conversation, city staff had prepared a summary of City Council’s current compensation and benefits along with a spreadsheet from the Colorado Municipal League detailing other city councils’ pay and benefits throughout the state.

The Steamboat Springs City Council president is paid $15,807 annually, while the president pro-tem makes $13,852 and individual council members receive $11,869. The rate allows for annual increases every January, and council members are eligible for medical and dental benefits at the same premium as city employees. Council members can also contribute to a retirement plan.

Overall, council compensation rates are comparable to other mountain cities with similar populations and tax bases. However, in terms of workload, the elected officials said they each average anywhere from 20-37 hours per week attending city meetings, weeding through dense meeting packets, appearing at different events and balancing other public service responsibilities.

“Our community, like it or not, just became the fifth-most expensive place to live in the entire state of Colorado,” council member Heather Sloop said. “We’re doing everything to get affordable housing here — all of these things — and we’re losing sight of who represents our community … We need to have a good influx of everyone that lives here and represents this community.”

Sloop continued by saying a salary increase could help someone working as a restaurant server, a barber or even a teacher decide to run for a City Council seat. With her colleagues largely in agreement, Sloop contended that serving on council is becoming more involved than it was when she first joined the body, and the demands will likely continue to grow.

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“Even with health care, it’s a lot,” Sloop said of the workload council members take on as she likened it to having a part-time job.

Joella West expressed doubt about whether voters would pass a steep pay raise and the environment increasing council members’ pay might create in Steamboat’s elections.

“But more than that I still have concerns about whether that will actually draw to us the people that we’re talking about wanting,” West said. “Because what you’re all talking about is basically a single person or maybe a married person without kids, because the moment you add kids into that equation, it doesn’t matter what you pay for those hours, the hours aren’t going to be available.”

Other council members suggested they could cut the workload by leaning more heavily on city staff or limiting their meetings to three hours.

Soon after, city attorney Dan Foote noted that Steamboat has its own bus system, fire and ambulance services, water and sewer department, and ski hill, where many of these responsibilities are handled by special taxing districts in other municipalities.

“This town does more things than I think almost any other community in the state,” Foote said. “I think that is part of it. Like structurally, you can’t just compare us population-wise to other communities because we’re a lot more full-service than a lot of other governments.”

Council members discussed trying to lighten the burden by leaning more heavily on city staff or creating new commissions to tackle some of these responsibilities, but others suggested that keeping these items with City Council creates a more cohesive decision-making process and prevents competition among the various city departments.

“If you’re able to increase the salary, it does make it more possible,” said Dakotah McGinlay, who’s the youngest member on City Council. “We’re asking younger people to get involved, but we’re not making it easier for them to get involved.”

Asked to weigh in, City Manager Gary Suiter was careful with his remarks.

“This is a City Council decision,” he said. “Staff should have nothing to do with this. This is a City Council policy decision.”

However, Suiter added that he’s been proud to work with such a diverse body, as City Council has included people of different ages, genders, economic backgrounds and family groups, and together they’ve tackled some big issues during his tenure with the city.

Suiter said that in his experience, people run for City Council for different reasons, though it’s never really the money, and “there isn’t a direct correlation between the amount of pay and the quality of leadership you get on city councils.” Still, he did agree that raising the compensation might help someone decide to run if that person is on the bubble.

Most council members seemed to agree the pay should be higher, and a majority settled on instructing the city attorney to return to them with a proposal they can continue to discuss before potentially taking it to voters in November.

While nothing was decided Tuesday, figures that got kicked around ranged from going up to $15,000-$20,000, $20,000-$25,000 or $25,000-$30,000. The overall effect on Steamboat’s budget was described as negligible.

“Do you want people that are able to provide different perspectives?” McGinlay asked. “I do think the work that we’re doing is so valuable — it’s way more valuable than this. We’re not running to be valued in a financial way, but I think our community would understand, and if we can help get the message out about all the work we’re doing … people could see like, ‘Wow, you really are doing a lot.'”

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