Routt County elective offices due for big pay raise, but for most, not until 2019
Steamboat Springs — Routt County commissioners agreed Tuesday to accept the provisions of a new state law that will boost salaries for elected officials in Colorado, including those in Routt. It’s a move that will result in 61 percent raises for a half dozen officials here who haven’t seen pay raises since 2007.
The new law and Tuesday’s decision will deliver long-deferred pay raises for everyone from the county assessor to the sheriff and the commissioners themselves, but not before 2017 at the earliest, and not until 2019 for most elected county officials.
Sheriff Garrett Wiggins told the commissioners Tuesday that in January 2019, following the 2018 county election, it will have been 12 years since his position will have seen a salary increase. Amortized over those years, the salary boost will represent an annual cost-of-living increase of 2.5 percent.
The Routt County sheriff’s salary will change from $76,000 to $114,010 in 2019, and other officials, including the commissioners, will be earning $94,250.
“We are going to have really good elections in Routt County (in the future),” County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said. “That is a salary that will pique people’s interest.”
The salaries of elected officials in Colorado must be approved by passage of a law in the state legislature and cannot be changed mid-term. In Routt County, the reluctance of state legislators to pass such a law has meant compensation for elected officials has fallen behind non-elected department heads and their own employees.
The magnitude of the salary increases in Routt County is influenced by the fact that they are two different bills passed by the legislature this year. The first boosted Routt into a higher category on the state’s scale of county salaries.
Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kim Bonner told the commissioners that she supports the pay increases even though she doesn’t plan on benefitting from them. She won’t run for another term.
“I decided to run for clerk (in November 2014) primarily because nobody else in the office wanted to,” Bonner said. “I wanted to do the right thing for the office. My chief deputy now makes $1,000 a month more than I do.”
Wiggins told the commissioners Tuesday that Undersheriff Ray Birch, earns between $18,000 and $19,000 more than Wiggins does annually, his lieutenants earn more than he does and his sergeants, who are eligible for overtime, would also be earning more than he does if they were at the top of the county’s salary scale, which they are not.
The county clerk currently earns $58,500 and the winner of the clerk’s election in 2018 will step in at a salary of $94,250 in January 2019. The same changes will come due for two county commissioner seats in 2017, as well as the county treasurer, a third county commissioner and assessor in 2019.
Currently, 10 of 13 appointed county department heads earn more than $100,000 annually, and the average salary for department heads is $104,103, according to the county.
Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad told the commissioners this week the impact of the salary increases due in 2019 with corresponding benefits on the budget will amount to $318,391.
The change in classifications for Routt from III to II, alone would bump the county commissioners’ salaries from $58,500 to $72,500, without the effects of the new Senate Bill 15-288.
In SB 15-288, the state legislature suggested new salaries for elected county officials in the different classifications, but lawmakers also recognized that the full salary increases might be difficult for some counties to absorb into their annual budgets. Accordingly, the bill provides the option of leaving salaries at the current level or adopting intermediate ranges that would have given the commissioners, treasurer, clerk and assessor annual salaries of $79,750 or $87,000 versus the full increase to $94,250.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he believes Routt probably should have become a category II county five years ago but added it was a struggle for him to approve boosting salaries to the full extent recommended by the legislature. Ultimately, he said, he realized that there is a likelihood the legislature won’t act on salaries again for a long time.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he too was hesitant but was persuaded by County Treasurer Brita Horn, who pointed out the importance of setting salaries at a level that would in the future attract young people with families to government service and not just older adults who had already fully realized their careers.
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