Aspen’s electeds looking at significant pay raises to serve on council
Aspen City Council members Monday made a move that would give their successors between a 77% and 101% raise, depending on what elected office it is.
Four of five council members agreed to consider an ordinance that brings the mayor’s annual salary from $27,900 to $49,500, and the council from $20,400 to $41,000.
Councilmen Ward Hauenstein and Skippy Mesirow wanted higher salaries than that, arguing the amount of work the job requires should be commensurate with the pay.
They also said a higher salary will attract a better cross section of the community, because it’s difficult to have a full-time job and represent the city as an elected official.
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“I think there is a huge barrier for being a city councilman for the amount of time is required to do the job well. … The compensation is ludicrous,” said Hauenstein, who originally proposed $50,000 for council members and close to $60,000 for the mayor.
He added that it’s a financial hardship for a normal working person to be on City Council and it’s unjust.
“The salary should be at a level where it allows everybody to participate at this table,” Hauenstein said.
“To do this job right, it’s a full-time commitment. … I think we owe the community to do our best job,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think people should be motivated to run for elected office because of the pay, but should be adequately compensated. “A council should reflect the makeup of the community and with a salary currently where it is, it doesn’t allow that.”
Mayor Torre suggested $39,500 for the mayor’s seat and $32,000 for council, which Councilwoman Ann Mullins supported.
She said that pay would attract a better slate of candidates.
“I think it’s really important to have diversity on the council,” Mullins said.
Torre said he won’t likely support the higher salaries that will be in the forthcoming ordinance, but he does want council pay to address the amount of hours required to do the job, and how that prohibits the city’s elected officials from having other full-time employment.
“These are high for me,” he said. “I will argue it at the table.”
Torre said serving on council is somewhere between a part-time and full-time job — definitely more than 20 hours a week but not 40.
Hauenstein said he doesn’t want serving on council to be a full-time job.
Mesirow said the public’s expectations are changing, and they want more transparency and access.
“It’s equity and accountability,” he said.
Council members compromised with mid-range salaries, which will come back to council in early April as ordinance that will be hashed out in public hearings.
If approved by council, the higher salaries would apply to individuals who have not yet been elected. Current council members would not receive the raise.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards was not present for Monday’s work session but has previously said she supports an increase.
The council and mayor haven’t seen a raise since 2001. And prior to that, the last raise was in 1996.
Torre’s proposal was based on the rate of inflation for the past 19 years when council’s pay was essentially frozen.
Council discussed a pay raise last April, when $200 more a month was floated. But the ordinance council was considering was tabled for lack of support.
Hauenstein said it felt inappropriate to determine the pay of their colleagues, who had been elected in March and were sworn in in June.
Council on Monday elected to carry forward from the 2019 ordinance a consumer price index escalator that would adjust council and mayor pay every four years.
When comparing pay to eight other mountain towns, Aspen’s electeds are paid the most, except Park City, Utah, where the mayor makes $44,472 and council members $22,968.
The city of Aspen’s budget also is higher than other compared mountain towns at $150 million.
The salary for a Pitkin County commissioner, which is set by the state Legislature, is $84,665. The commissioners oversee a $142 million budget.
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Aspen residents, workers up and down the valley and area businesses could benefit from the city of Aspen’s recently passed $5 million emergency relief and economic stimulus package.