Is it time for a raise for the Aspen City Council? |

Is it time for a raise for the Aspen City Council?

Janet Urquhart

The politically touchy subject of a pay raise for the Aspen City Council is up for discussion by the council tonight.

As a starting point for the debate, City Manager Steve Barwick has suggested a $300-per-month raise for both the mayor and council posts.

“I think it’s modest, but it’s reasonable,” said Mayor Rachel Richards, who suggested the council take up the issue. “We’ve heard a number of citizens say it should be a lot more.”

Currently, council members make $1,200 a month, or $14,400 annually. The mayor’s post pays $1,725 a month, or $20,700 a year. Those salaries were established by a council vote in 1996. The council voted down a proposed pay raise in 1999, but at least some members appear to feel it’s time to bump up salaries.

Now is the time to decide, argued Richards, before citizens start thinking about making a bid for office in the upcoming May election. The new salaries would take effect for officeholders elected or re-elected then.

“The town expects a lot,” she said. “When you literally weigh in what it takes out of you to serve and what it takes from your family’s bottom line, I think we end up eliminating a lot of people.”

“I have to think there are people in the community who might run for office but can’t afford it,” agreed Councilman Tom McCabe.

One such citizen, Ramn Duvernay, appeared before the council last summer to lobby for considerable pay raises in order to make it financially feasible for citizens to run for office. He proposed salaries of $24,000 to $34,000 for council members and from $30,500 to $40,500 for the mayor’s post, but most council members resisted the idea of earning a paycheck for elected office that is commensurate with a full-time job.

That doesn’t mean a post on the council isn’t demanding and time consuming, Richards added.

“It’s daunting,” McCabe said. “My desk at home is a nightmare. The amount of stuff I’ve got to read . it takes a significant amount of my time.”

“It ends up being, you can hardly find a single day when you can put in an honest day’s work for somebody else,” Richards added.

McCabe, self-employed as the owner of Aspen Repair, said his duties as a councilman took him away from his job so often in 2000, he suffered financially.

“It was eating into my work time so much that last year, even with the City Council salary, I lost money,” he said. “I took a pretty big hit. I can’t afford to do that again this year – no way.”

In addition to a pay hike, Barwick has suggested council members have the option of joining the city’s health insurance plan, which would increase members’ compensation by an additional $3,000 at current rates, he said.

The total cost to the city for the $300-per-month pay hike and insurance coverage would be $33,000, according to Barwick.

The insurance coverage would help, but a pay hike would be most meaningful, said McCabe.

“I like what I do at City Hall, but it’s a strain. I would like it to be a little less of a strain,” he said.

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