Aspen electeds agree on salary increases for their successors
The majority of Aspen City Council agreed Tuesday to give their successors more than a 50% raise.
That’s translates into $1,000 more per month for council members and the mayor, who make $20,400 and $27,900 annually, respectively, plus benefits.
Council members during their work session discussed their preferred amounts, with Councilman Skippy Mesirow suggesting the highest amount of between $50,000 and $60,000 for the council and 25% or 50% for the mayor.
“I genuinely think that that is the fair thing to do to balance community service with the reality of living in Aspen and all of the challenges that come with that,” he said, adding that he works between 80 and 90 hours a week between his regular job at a vacation rental company and as an elected official. “It is extremely difficult to carry this role and work a full-time job.”
He, along with fellow council members, agreed that the low salary for council members prevents a wide variety of people from running for office and the job has become full time, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein had suggested $50,000 for council members and 35% more for the mayor.
But they ultimately compromised to $12,000 annually, suggested by Councilwoman Rachel Richards, after Mayor Torre had suggested $11,000 for each position, plus inflation adjustments every four years.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins was the only one who disagreed. She said giving future council members raises during a pandemic when people are suffering economically, and layoffs and budget cuts are happening in private business, as well as local government, is an insult.
“This is not the right time to give the position raises as hard as we’ve all worked,” she said, acknowledging that more than 40 hours a week is sometimes required between council duties and the multiple boards that elected officials serve on. “We put in a lot more time than we get paid for.
“But I think we need to wait until the economy stabilizes.”
Richards said it’s a difficult conversation to have and can be considered the third rail in politics, but to be effective in the position and get the necessary work done on behalf of the public, it requires more time than it has in the past.
“I would like to make access to public service something that’s available for all of our community members whether they are getting closer to needing to save for retirement, whether they have kids in very expensive child care and they are trying to save for their kid’s college, or maybe they’re trying to save up a down payment to get out of rental housing and into something permanent,” she said.
If approved by ordinance next month, the salary raises will benefit the three people who take office in June, after they are elected in March 2020 when the majority of the five-seat council is up.
It would be the first time council has had a raise in 20 years.
Council members discussed the issue March 9, one day before the city declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic hitting Aspen.
With three new council members to be elected next year, it would increase the 2021 budget by $36,000.
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Development in Basalt barely skipped a beat in 2020 despite the coronavirus. It’s expected to be busier next year.