Newly elected members of the Grand County Council joined their colleagues in voting to approve a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for elected officials during the first meeting of 2017. Council members’ salaries have not received a COLA adjustment since 1992, and council members said last year that the issue could discourage a more diverse selection of community members from running for public office.
“For some reason, the council’s salary hasn’t been adjusted for cost of living since the council started,” said council member Chris Baird. “ ... I think it’s fairly obvious that the council’s salary has been significantly devalued by not doing cost of living adjustments, which makes it hard for lower income people to even be able to serve on the council at all.”
Using reverse inflation calculations, Baird said the council’s current $735 salary would actually be valued at about $420 per month in 1992 terms.
Adjusting the COLA for council members now increases their salary from $735 per month to $951 per month, an additional overall annual cost to the county of $18,197.
Saying that the move “makes sense,” newly elected council member Curtis Wells said that “there’s no reason that council members should have been exempt from cost of living adjustments.”
Wells also suggested that the council should have a broader conversation regarding compensation in the future.
“I would like to encourage further conversation about the compensation of council members,” Wells said. “It’s good to attract a diverse array of candidates to these positions and in many cases folks are losing money serving in these positions ... We need to get council members compensated so that there’s an attractiveness and a demand for capable candidates.”
The COLA adjustment for council members passed unanimously, as did a raise for other elected officials.
The wage adjustment for elected officials, which also includes a COLA adjustment, will cost the county a total of $3,733 annually, divided among the county attorney, sheriff, clerk/auditor, assessor, treasurer and recorder positions.
Last year, with the exception of the council, county elected officials received a pay raise when the council adopted an ordinance setting those salaries at levels equivalent to the average of the fourth- and fifth-class counties in the state. That change cost the county $29,822 in 2016.
County clerk/auditor Diana Carroll said the latest adjustment will continue keeping elected official’s salaries in line with fourth- and fifth-class counties.
“Last year when we did the ordinance ... the council at the time said to continue keeping us in line with the other counties throughout the state,” Carroll said. “ ... [Grand County Treasurer] Chris Kauffman did the numbers, and this keeps us in line with the rest of the state.”
In supporting the elected officials’ wage adjustment, Baird argued that such positions have few options to receive pay raises, unlike the rest of county staff.
“I think that ultimately in reality if we were to treat our elected officials the same as we treated staff, that they would get 1.5 percent plus whatever the COLA was every year, just to maintain equity with the staff,” Baird said.
Wells pointed out that elected officials in Grand County receive below average wages in comparison with the rest of the state. He argued that providing adequate pay means the taxpayers are receiving professional work.
“These are professionals seeking employment for the taxpayer,” Wells said. “For the county there’s something to be said about offering competitive pay so that the taxpayers get as capable of professionals as possible.”