A few of Summit’s county officials are still reveling in their election night victories from this past week, but have even more to celebrate come the start of 2017 — some hefty pay raises.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 15-288 into law on June 3 last year to address the compensation paid to certain public officials throughout Colorado. The statute, which took effect Jan. 1, 2016, provides a major salary boost for all newly elected or re-elected officeholders upon their next swearing in.
Those eligible for the raise this upcoming year are Commissioners Thomas Davidson and Karn Stiegelmeier, who were each elected to their thirdand final terms in last Tuesday’s election. Previously at a pay rate of $72,500 — the same as the county assessor and clerk and recorder positions — they’ll take 30-percent increases to $94,250. Dan Gibbs, two years into his second term as the county’s other commissioner, will remain at the prior annual wage until winning a third term, should he run again and maintain the seat starting in 2019.
The county’s additional elected positions of coroner, treasurer, sheriff and surveyor are also due the 30-percent raise once current holders either win re-election or new blood eventually takes office. Because the treasurer job in Summit County also entails the role of public trustee, that position continues its $12,500 stipend on top of the new increase as well.
As a result, the coroner’s salary will move from $44,200 to $57,460, the treasurer and public trustee from $85,000 to $106,750, sheriff from $87,700 to $114,010, and surveyor from $4,400 to $5,720. Neither Beverly Breakstone, the present county assessor, or Bill Wallace in the role of treasurer and public trustee, will qualify for the new figures because each will be term-limited come 2018. Clerk and Recorder Kathy Neel has one term available should she seek it, Coroner Regan Wood has two and Surveyor Gary Wilkinson — who also serves as Frisco’s mayor — has one.
“It’s been a while since (the General Assembly) has made it back through the process to make salary adjustments,” said county manager Scott Vargo. “Keeping pace is a big part of those adjustments to try to keep elected official positions at a level commensurate with department head and managerial positions. In many cases, these positions — clerk, assessor, so on — are managing significant staff, monitoring considerable budgets and necessary services for the public.”
The last time public officeholders received a raise was 2007. As a result, Vargo noted, there have been a number of cases where second-in-command or assistant-type positions have been earning more than their bosses in elected office for several years. For the most part, the new law should solve that issue moving forward.
In addition, the recent law set new salaries for the positions of governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and each of the state’s senators and representatives beginning in 2019. The language of SB-15 288 declares each position’s compensation as a percentage of the income of the chief justice of the state Supreme Court or county court judges. For example, instead of the previous $90,000 salary, the governor will make 65 percent of the chief justice’s income, while all legislators will make 25 percent of the annual salary paid to county judges instead of their current $30,000.
A provision of the recent law also accounts for cost-of-living bumps every two years, to be determined by the state’s General Assembly council starting in late 2017 based on the Consumer Price Index. Those updated rates would not apply, however, until each officeholder wins either election or re-election, because salaries cannot be adjusted midterm.
And not all salaries are created equal across the state. Earnings in each region are set in the law based on the size of each county. Sheriffs and commissioners in Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties make top dollar, whereas those in the much more sparsely populated Jackson, Kiowa and Sedgwick counties make less than half of the former. Summit County, along with Eagle, Fremont, Garfield, La Plata, Mesa, Pitkin and Routt, falls into the second of five categories for pay scale.
Finally, counties have the opportunity to opt out of the default salary increases set by the General Assembly, but would have to prove financial hardship to do so. Individuals in each position are also unable to forfeit their raises.
“The intent is also to maintain salaries at a level that encourages people to become more involved and entertain running for elected office,” Vargo said, “so we continue to have high-quality folks for these positions.”