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Aspen City Council pay is among the highest in state

Janet Urquhart

Even without a pay increase, members of the Aspen City Council are well paid, compared to elected members of other city councils around Colorado.

According to 2000 comparisons compiled by the Colorado Municipal League, current salaries for Aspen council members and the mayor are in the top five among Colorado cities.

Aspen’s mayor currently earns $1,725 per month and council members earn $1,200 monthly. The council is considering a $600-per-month raise for the mayor and $500 more per month for council members, effective when the seats come up for election.

Though the raises have yet to receive formal council approval, they appear to have support within the community.

“I can guarantee you that the public will not look unkindly at this at all,” local radio talk show host Andrew Kole assured the council on Monday. “I don’t think anybody in this town would be offended.”

Kole said listener support for the pay hike on his radio program was overwhelming.

Local citizen L.J. Erspamer also urged the council to boost its pay. “I was shocked when I read what you’re making . that’s absurd,” he said. “I want you to give yourself a substantial raise – not a little one.”

While council members agreed some pay hike is in order, given the amount of time the elected officials must put into the part-time job, Mayor Rachel Richards is quick to point out Aspen’s council is already well paid by state standards.

They are not well paid by county government standards, however. Pitkin County voters recently approved bumping up pay for county commissioners to levels established by the state Legislature. That means three commissioners are now earning $51,827 annually. Two others are earning $35,000; the raise will go into effect with the next election for those posts.

Aspen council members are currently earning $14,400 a year; the mayor makes $20,700 annually.

While county commissioners govern a larger geographic area, they don’t attend three times as many meetings to earn three times the pay, said Richards. The county commissioners oversee a $42 million budget; the city’s 2001 budget totals $64 million.

Aspen demands a lot of its council, and its budget is considerably larger than other communities of roughly equal population, Richards also noted.

Among mayors, the 2000 comparison shows Denver at the top of the list. Mayor Wellington Webb earns $9,166 per month. Aurora is No. 2 with a mayoral salary of $3,752 per month, followed by Greenwood Village at $3,000, Lakewood at $2,000 and Aspen at $1,725. (The comparison is of salaries in effect as of Jan. 1, 2000; some may have increased since then).

Boulder pays its mayor and council members $139.94 per meeting.

Vail and Avon both pay their mayors $1,000 per month; Breckenridge pays $800. In Glenwood Springs, Mayor Sam Skramstad is paid $500 per month, according to the Municipal League.

Among city councils across the state, Denver council members earn $4,650 a month, followed by Greenwood Village at $1,500, Aspen at $1,200, Longmont at $1,000 and Aurora at $870.

Council members in Vail, Avon and Breckenridge all earn $500 per month, according to the comparison.

In Snowmass Village, which is a town and therefore not included in the city comparison, the mayor earns $1,200 per month and council members receive $700 monthly, according to Town Manager Gary Suiter.

Members of councils in some cities receive no pay for their duties, but most receive some compensation. Health insurance is also offered in a handful of cities. Aspen is exploring an insurance benefit for council electees in addition to a pay hike.

Richards said she hopes a better salary and insurance will make it easier for local residents to run for office, especially since council duties can cut into one’s ability to work a full-time job elsewhere.

“It has to be something reasonable so that you can continue to bring in the next generation of leaders,” she said.

The council’s current salaries, however, attracted a strong field of candidates in the 1999 election. The ballot featured four contenders for mayor and six candidates for two council seats.

Councilman Tom McCabe, among the winners in that election, said this week that a $500 increase would boost council pay to “a point where it’s at least acceptable.

“I don’t have a problem thinking the city’s getting its money’s worth,” he added.


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