County board’s pay soaring 40 percent |

County board’s pay soaring 40 percent

The Pitkin County commissioners will get their first pay raise in seven years, but it’s a real doozie.The commissioners’ salary will leap from $51,827 to $72,500 in January. That is an increase of $20,673, or 40 percent.The raise will only go into effect for the two seats up for election this year. Those are districts 1 and 2, which Patti Clapper and Mick Ireland occupy. The pay for the other three districts will increase in 2008, when they are up for election.Ireland won’t reap the windfall: Term limits will force him out of office this year. Rachel Richards and Jim True are running for the District 2 seat.Clapper is seeking reelection. Tim Mooney is challenging her.The commissioners had nothing to do with the hefty pay increase. “We defer to the state statute for our commissioner salaries,” said Debbie Quinn, assistant manager for Pitkin County. The county’s Home Rule Charter was amended in 2000, with voter approval, to follow state guidelines on commissioner salaries, Quinn said.The Colorado Legislature approved the hike for three classes of counties, based on size, in its last session.Even though the county relies on state rules for commissioners’ pay, the issue sometimes raised controversy in the past. Many counties in Colorado have three commissioners rather than five. That means there is less impact on their budgets because they have two less salaries to pay. It was sometimes suggested that Pitkin County should take the state-mandated pay for a commissioner, multiple it by three, then divide it by five to reflect the greater number of commissioners.Richards, a candidate for Ireland’s seat, said the salary can be justified. As an Aspen city councilwoman, Richards said she puts in extra hours by attending sessions outside council meetings. She represents Aspen and promotes its interests in organizations like the Colorado Association of Ski Towns and the Colorado Municipal League.She said she would extend that extra effort to the commissioners’ role. “It’s fair for the public to expect a serious commitment. That’s not part-time money,” Richards said.She said she was unaware that a $72,500 salary was being contemplated for the post when she first considered running in December. As a councilwoman, Richards earns about $20,400 per year.True said he was also unaware of the salary increase at the time he contemplated a bid. True said the pay can be justified, based on his experience as a Pitkin County commissioner from 1988-96. The position can demand full-time attention, he said.True said allowing the Legislature to set the pay is wise. When he was in office, the commissioners followed the state’s lead, but still had to vote on salaries for their positions.”There’s logic deferring it to the state because it takes it out of a local discussion,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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