Public service can’t be measured in $$$
Granted, an elected officials worth is impossible to measure. That is why coming up with a sensible pay scale for commissioners, councilors and mayors often sparks contentious debate.
The intangible qualities that make a good leader — fairness and integrity at the top of the list — do not translate into a tidy equation. The hours are irregular, at best, and the emotional wear and tear of being in the public eye probably can’t be assuaged with money.
The proposed county councilors’ salaries may be the deciding factor in how Summit County residents vote on a proposal to switch from the current three-man commission form of government to a five-man board with an appointed county manager. It is, therefore, appropriate that the Change of Governance committee, formed in the wake of voters’ support for looking into the change, addressed the topic.
The committee supports the change of government and, this week, suggested that members of a five-man county council should not be paid as much as those who currently serve in an almost full-time capacity, on the three-man county commission.
Summit County Commissioners currently earn $50,000 per year and receive an additional $20,000 in benefits. Adding two members would cost taxpayers an additional $140,000. Hiring a city manager could add another $50,000 to $100,000.
That is a lot of money for administration — money that could be spent on additional law enforcement officers, building inspectors, planners or other equally important public servants.
Those who support paying elected officials higher salaries argue that ensuring adequate compensation expands the field of potential candidates beyond a select few wealthy enough to put in the time with little compensation. Those who oppose higher salaries say serving the community shouldn’t be about the money.
Without commenting on the current commission salary level, it is apparent that the workload, divided among five representatives, would be lighter. It would be even less arduous if some of the legwork was assumed by a competent county manager.
The sensible approach, one that would likely be most palatable to voters, would be to redistribute but not increase, the $210,000 spent on the commissioners. Subtract $80,000 for a professional county manager, trained in public administration, then divide the remaining $130,000 among the five councilors bringing their salary/benefits package to $26,000 annually. Remarkably, that amount is right in line with what Park City Council members receive ($21,000 per year including benefits).
Elected officials at the local level are supposed to be laymen who work part time to set policies that guide a professional staff. As the system is now, part-time laymen are trying to do a full-time professional job and no amount of money will make that work effectively.
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