Summit County Council considers pay raise ahead of election
March 4, 2016
Summit County Council members are debating whether to raise their wages.
The County Council is responsible for setting the salaries of elected officials and decided to broach the topic as the opening of the filing window nears. The period to declare as a candidate is March 11 to March 17, at 5 p.m. Four seats will be on the ballot.
Councilors currently take home $32,737 a year, in addition to receiving the benefits of a full-time county employee. The council chair earns $38,895. During the meeting, officials wondered aloud if that is enough compensation for the duties that go along with being an elected official.
"I think there is justification for raising it," said Brian Bellamy, Summit County Human Resources Director. "$32,000 for what you are doing is very inexpensive. We couldn’t hire anyone at that rate."
The five-member council meets weekly and is responsible for approving the county’s budget, appointing citizen committees, enacting ordinances, administering programs and establishing special service districts, among other duties. Most council members agreed that the part-time position requires a full-time commitment.
"This is a substantial time commitment and because of that the salary level, whatever it is, affects who can apply to the County Council," said Roger Armstrong. "We are creating a rich man’s game where only the people with the means can serve."
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Armstrong said he spent about 20 hours this week in meetings and answering phone calls and emails.
"That’s what we have to consider. How much time do we put in, what are the problems we trying to solve and what kind of skill sets do we want to try and entice," Armstrong said. "We need some big brains to help solve our problems, but what will it cost?"
Tal Adair, who was appointed to the council in November and in his personal life works as a loan officer, said he was told that his commitment would require about three hours a week. However, after several months in the position Adair said that has not been the case.
"If you want to do it right and really serve like you should and be available like you should, it takes time," Adair said.
Bellamy suggested councilors consider getting in line with what some neighboring counties pay their elected officials. However, he did not suggest a particular amount and emphasized that some counties don’t have a county manager or department heads. Summit County has seven full-time elected department heads.
In Salt Lake County, where the council is considered part time, members earn $38,219, while the chair makes slightly more at $42,041, according to the staff report.
According to a county staff report specifically prepared for the discussion, these are the salaries for elected officials in other counties with similar populations:
- Utah County full-time commissioners: $119,444
- Davis County full-time commissioners: $120,714
- Weber County full-time commissioners: $115,274
- Washington County full-time commissioners: $73,482
- Iron County full-time commission: $51,854
- Uintah County full-time commission: $94,660
- Box Elder County part-time commission: $43,552
- Cache County part-time council/chair: $12,500; $14,300
- Tooele County full-time council/chair: $73,138; $73,765
During the discussion, McMullin was one of the most vocal proponents of an increase. McMullin said she will not be seeking another term and wouldn’t benefit from the raise, but knows that the job "is not easy, it takes a lot of time and you should be fairly compensated for it."
McMullin said when she was elected in 2008, the three-member commission suggested dividing their salaries among the incoming five councilors. However, McMullin said it did not stick.
"We get here and my colleagues decide we are going to be super people an take a huge slice off of that and we are going to make nothing," she said. "They thought everyone would care we were saving money, but all they did was set it back 10 years. We are still not at the number we would have been when we started it.
"The whole reason to make it a normal salary is because the last thing you want to do is create a situation where only wealthy and retired people can apply for it," McMullin said.
McMullin suggested a base salary of at least $43,000, more than a $10,000 raise per councilor. It would cost roughly $51,000 more a year. The county is currently operating on a budget of $62.6 million.
"We made a mistake in 2008 and I think it should be fixed," McMullin said.
Most council members spoke favorably of the idea and appeared eager to move forward with a decision. However, the topic was listed as a discussion item on the agenda and will be scheduled for possible approval next week.
"This is an opportunity to reset the clock," McMullin said.
To view the county staff report concerning the pay raise, go to http://summitcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/3129.
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