Time for City Council pay raise? | AspenTimes.com

Time for City Council pay raise?

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen voters this fall could be asked to double the salaries of their elected officials.

City Councilman Jack Johnson has proposed a ballot question that asks voters to approve increasing the salary of the mayor from $2,325 a month to $4,531.25. Council members’ salaries, which are currently $1,700 a month, would be increased to $4,027.98, if approved by voters.

The compensation packages are derived from the salaries of Pitkin County commissioners, who earn $72,500 a year. That salary was set by the Colorado Legislature in 2006.

Under the city proposal, the mayor’s increased salary would be 75 percent of what the commissioners make. Council members would earn 66.67 percent of what commissioners make.

Aspen City Council members’ salaries haven’t been adjusted since 2001, when the current compensation was established. A host of justifications for the salary increases are given in a proposed ballot measure that will be discussed, and possibly voted on by the council Monday.

In order to take the pay raise to voters, Johnson is seeking to change the Home Rule Charter, which says that the council doesn’t need voter approval to boost the salaries of elected officials.

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“The City Council desires to provide a reasonable and equitable increase in the levels of compensation provided to the mayor and members of the City Council so as to reflect not only the increase in the cost of living since 2001, but the increase in the commitment of time necessarily required to fulfill the duties of such elective offices,” the ordinance reads.

The ordinance adds: “The City Council finds that the current compensation for the mayor and members of council even after being adjusted for increases in the [Consumer Price Index] are not sufficient to encourage persons from all economic backgrounds to participate in public service.”

Johnson said the realities of the job’s workload is not commensurate with the pay.

“I would hate to get a calculator and figure out the hourly rate,” he said, adding an increase is in line with what the state Legislature had in mind.

Johnson said he thinks a higher pay rate will attract more qualified candidates and provide an incentive for citizens with modest financial incomes to consider public service.

“It’s hard to think that a waiter or a person who works 9 to 5 could do this,” he said, adding that the current council is made up of one retiree, three self-employed people and someone living off of his savings.

The proposal also asks that the mayor and council members participate in the city’s health insurance program. That way they would be entitled to receive a stipend equal to the cost of benefits authorized for regular, full-time city employees.

If approved by the voters, the compensation would take effect in June 2009, when a new council will be sworn in. The seats held by Johnson, Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss and Mayor Mick Ireland will be open next spring. It’s unknown whether the incumbents will seek re-election. Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Steve Skadron are in their second year of a four-year term, and would be eligible for the raise.

The council last summer discussed increasing the salaries of future city elected officials and considered putting the issue on a future ballot.

The suggestion came last July from former council candidate Andrew Kole, who said he thinks serving in office is a full-time job, and elected officials should be paid accordingly.

Council members agreed, saying in a July meeting that the city’s elected officials are underpaid for their work. And serving the public adequately takes time away from officials’ jobs and family life.

“I knew what I was getting into and I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Johnson said at the time. “I don’t know how people with families and a real job do it … It’s what I do all day long.”

csack@aspentimes.com

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