Sticker shock riles former council member
By Doug McMurdo
A former Grand County Council member on Jan. 2 chastised current members over a significant pay raise the council gave itself at the last meeting of 2018.
Lynn Jackson essentially accused the council of being sneaky when it approved salary increases that pushed six of the members from about $11,600 to $31,000 and the chair from $11,600 to about $36,000.
Jackson said there was a “clear lack of transparency … we expect you to go out of your way letting us know.” However, reports show that the hikes were publicly discussed on a number of occasions.
The sticker shock that came with the raise was something council members mulled over during discussions, which were held several times when the Budget Advisory Committee met weekly throughout much of last year, followed by a public hearing Dec. 3 in which no members of the public, aside from a Times-Independent reporter, were in attendance. Had previous councils approved occasional pay raises every few years, went the thinking, the current council would not have had to make such a huge jump at one time.
“I don’t remember any of you campaigning on this,” said Jackson, who noted the council gave itself a 37 percent raise in 2017, which he deemed “acceptable” for a part-time council such as what currently exists in Grand County.
The 170 percent increase this year, however, was not “within that intent. I served on the council and I know how ineffective it is. It’s no secret I want change,” he said.
Jackson is a litigant in a lawsuit the county’s Republican Party filed against Grand County over HB 224, a law passed last March that mandates the county change its form of government to a commission.
Seventh District Judge Don Torgerson has been asked to decide which group should control the process – the local Republican Party, which filed a petition to do so the day Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 224 into law, or the council, which passed a resolution giving itself that right a week later. State law provides allowances for both groups. The judge must decide what lawmakers intended when they wrote HB 224 following a hearing held in late November.
Jackson said the council gave itself the raise while reducing its workload after Grand County EMS became its own political subdivision; that they did nothing about housing or differentiate between council members who work hard and those who don’t.
“I encourage you to rescind your pay raise,” he said. Councils typically don’t respond to people who address them during the formal public comment portion of meetings. Chair Evan Clapper thanked Jackson for his comments.
The county on multiple occasions discussed the pay raises and the reasons for them, and Grand County Clerk/Auditor Chris Baird has fully explained the process that was undertaken in 2017 and 2018 in meetings, interviews, email communications to council members, in a viewpoint published in the Jan. 3 edition of The Times-Independent and a report following the Dec. 3 public hearing that was published in the newspaper.
The 2017 pay raise came after the county commissioned a comprehensive salary study that concluded the Grand County Council was the lowest paid among similarly situated counties with part-time councils.
They increased their salaries by a couple hundred dollars and then learned Morgan County had tripled its council members’ salaries, said Baird in an interview.
The $31,000 and $36,000, respectively, align in the middle of the salary pool for part-time Utah county governments of like-sized counties, said Baird. Grand County, according to the study, was behind in salaries across the board. In an effort to close the gap, the county gave other elected officials and rank and file employees salary and wage increases, as well. Baird in an interview also noted council members are not eligible for health insurance or other benefits.
Jackson said the study committee that will be formed once Torgerson issues his ruling will ultimately decide what a “reasonable level of salary is” for whomever serves.