Our View: Doing right by our leaders | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Doing right by our leaders

At Issue

Routt County commissioners have cleared the way for elected county officials to receive their first pay raises in 12 years

Our View

We commend commissioners for looking beyond the possible backlash of boosting their own salaries in order to secure well-deserved and long-overdue raises for the county’s elected officials

Editorial Board

Suzanne Schlicht, publisher and COO

Lisa Schlichtman, editor

Jim Patterson, assistant editor

Tom Ross, reporter

Diane Moore, community representative

Carl Steidtmann, community representative

Last Tuesday, the Routt County Board of Commissioners voted to accept the provisions of a new state law that will boost the salaries of elected county officials — including the salaries of the commissioners themselves — by some 60 percent.

Our View

We commend commissioners for looking beyond the possible backlash of boosting their own salaries in order to secure well-deserved and long-overdue raises for the county’s elected officials

On cursory examination, the move may appear self-serving: Once the change takes full effect Jan. 1, 2019, it will increase a Routt County commissioner’s annual salary from $58,500 to $94,250. But we think looking only at this single facet of the commission’s action leads to an incomplete — and incorrect — impression of the action as a whole.

To fully understand the issue, a bit of background is necessary. The change is actually the cumulative result of two state laws enacted this year.

The first, House Bill 1256 — which was co-sponsored by State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on April 10 — reclassifies Routt County from Category III to Category II for the purpose of establishing salaries for elected county officials.

The second, Senate Bill 15-288, which Hickenlooper signed June 3, revises the formula used to calculate those salaries and provides for quadrennial adjustments to them. At the same time, it recognizes that implementing the salary increases immediately and in full might be difficult for some counties to absorb and, accordingly, provides those counties the option of leaving salaries at their current levels or incrementally applying the increases.

County commissioners on Tuesday elected to do the latter.

With respect to Routt County, the overall effect of the changes will be an approximate 61 percent salary increase for county commissioners; the county sheriff; county treasurers, assessors and clerks; the county coroner and the county surveyor. Full implementation will be complete Jan. 1, 2019, and Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad told commissioners last week the impact of the increases upon the county budget — with the corresponding benefits adjustments — will amount to some $315,000 annually.

Increasing the expenditure of tax dollars almost always invites criticism, particularly when those extra tax dollars are to be spent — at least in part — to bump the salaries of the very people who propose to spend them, and that sobering political reality is quite likely a big part of why our elected county officials haven’t seen a pay raise since 2007. The changes provided by SB 15-288 also include hefty salary increases for the governor and Colorado state legislators, and those officials are often, and understandably, reluctant the take any action that might be perceived as self-serving. This is part of the reason we commend the governor, the legislature and our own county commissioners for taking this appropriate and long-overdue action.

We call the action appropriate for a couple of reasons.

First, the salaries of elected officials can only be adjusted at the statutory level, and because of this, some of our elected county officials are earning significantly less than the employees who work under them. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kim Bonner told commissioners she currently earns about $1,000 per month less than her chief deputy.

Similarly, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins told commissioners his undersheriff and lieutenants earn more than he does — the undersheriff, between $18,000 and $19,000 more annually.

In addition to the obvious problem with a boss earning less than his or her employees, it is hardly reasonable to expect lower-level managers in county departments, perhaps the most qualified potential candidates available, to aspire to the greater responsibilities of elected office given the fact that, in so doing, they would effectively be cutting their own salaries.

And laying aside the issue of attracting qualified candidates to seek elected offices, sanctioning the pay raises is, in our opinion, simply the right thing to do.

When one considers the adjustments not as a single, massive pay raise, but rather, in terms of the 12 years our county officials have gone without one, they amount to an approximate 2.5 percent increase per year — roughly what one might expect from routine, annual cost-of-living allowances.

Our county elected officials work an incredible numbers of hours in service to their constituents, and many could, no doubt, earn far more in the private sector, even with the coming adjustments.

We think these dedicated and hard-working public servants deserve the raises, and we commend our county commissioners for taking the difficult steps necessary to secure them.

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