Salaries for county’s top officials a hot topic
Summit County commissioners are paid around $51,000 per year, but including benefits, each of the board’s three part-time members are compensated with more than $70,000, said Diane Murphy, a western Summit County resident studying whether the county should expand its commission to five members and hire an executive manager.
She’s part of a committee, charged in January with studying whether the county’s form of government should change, that supports changing the commission to a county council with five elected members.
Murphy dissented in a 5-2 decision by the committee this week to drop the pay of the county’s top elected officials by more than $50,000, to $17,000.
"Pay them more (than $17,000)," Murphy said before voting ‘nay’ Tuesday. "I am very sensitive to the issue of what it costs to be elected."
According to final finance disclosures filed in 2004, Democratic Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott spent $19,740 defeating Basin Republican Steve Osguthorpe in the race for commission seat C. Osguthorpe spent $39,369 on his campaign.
Murphy suggested dividing the current commission payroll by five but her motion to pay county councilors a yearly salary of $35,000 failed.
Study committee members say Summit County Commission chair Bob Richer opposes significant pay cuts for the new politicians, however, they balked this week at buckling to pressure from the governing board.
The committee discussed setting the salaries at zero and allowing the first councilors elected in Summit County to determine their pay.
"Anybody you elect, do you trust them to do the right thing?" asked Steve Dougherty, a study committee member from Snyderville.
"I don’t trust anybody to take down their own salary," added westsider Bill Aho, who is also studying the governance change.
A majority of committee members feel a lower salary would draw candidates better suited for the part-time position.
"I think if people are running because of the money involved then they have no business being in there," said Democratic Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme, who opposes changing the government. "Personally, I’d be happy if our salary was $17,000. I didn’t run because of the salary." But the second dissenter on the study committee this week, Park City resident Eric Easterly, thinks councilor salaries should be higher.
"Unless we have some enthusiastic support for [the plan] I don’t think it will pass the voters," he said, adding that persuading the Summit County Commission to allow voters to decide in 2006 whether to change is critical. "I feel that we need [the commission’s] support and we need to make this happen."
Three commissioners currently oversee the county’s legislative and executive branches of government. A more efficient government requires the hiring of a manager to supervise county employees, Easterly insists.
" the fundamental problem with the government of Summit County is that there’s nobody managing," he said, adding that the County Commission may reject the plan if the salary for councilors is too low. "We need to have somebody at the head of the government."
Commissioners could vote in December on whether to place a proposal to change the political body to a five-member council with a hired executive on the 2006 general election ballot.
"What’s wrong with letting this evolve as a political issue?" Easterly asked, favoring allowing councilors to set their salaries. "It’s compromising our ability to put this plan through."
But Dougherty insists the study committee’s final report should include a realistic number.
Committee member Chris Boyer, a North Summit resident, said Richer’s opposition to the smaller salary during a recent meeting indicates the County Commission may be trying to "eat their young." He insists members of the study committee are not puppets.
"I’m willing to let the commission fall on their swords on this I think we’re stepping out of our bounds to please commissioners," Boyer said. "Money’s not the answer to good leadership."
Mike Crittenden, a committee member from North Summit, insists councilors in Summit County should not make more than Salt Lake County councilors who are paid around $30,000.
"We’re going to pay people more, for representing less people, because Bob Richer’s upset?" Crittenden asked.
Park City councilors receive $21,322 in annual compensation and the mayor receives $32,255, including health benefits.
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