City proposes pay increases for council, mayor

Proposed salaries equivalent to cost of health benefits

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus proposed pay increases for elected officials following the pay increases for members of the county council earlier this year. Photo by Carter Pape

For the first time in roughly 20 years, elected city officials might be getting a pay raise.

The proposed 2019-2020 budget for the City of Moab includes an increase in annual salaries from roughly $8,500 for council members and about $12,500 for the mayor to roughly $25,000 for each elected official.

Rather than offering health benefits to the elected officials, the city has proposed to pay elected officials the money it would have spent on insurance. This means the city would not offer health benefits; rather, that cost would be put into officials’ salaries.

The proposed pay increases were initially requested by Mayor Emily Niehaus, who told The Times-Independent she wanted council members and the mayor to receive the cost of health coverage on top of their current pay, which she called the “baseline.”

Instead, the proposed salary for each council member is equivalent to the cost of health insurance and does not include the baseline pay. Were Niehaus’ wishes met, council members and the mayor would get higher salaries than what is currently proposed.

Why the increase?

Niehaus said her intent with asking for an increase to elected city officials’ pay was so that the salary would be economically comparable to Grand County Council members’ salaries.

In January, the county council voted to increase its salaries from about $11,000 to about $31,000. The chair of the council now receives a $36,000 annual salary.

Niehaus said the proposed pay increase would make running for city council or mayor a more “compelling” proposition for people interested in public office.

“There needs to be compelling reason for someone to run for city council, and then we as a community need to take care of them,” Niehaus told The Times-Independent.

When will there be a vote?

The proposed 2019-2020 budget will be on the city council’s agenda Tuesday, when there will likely be discussion of the salary increases. However, if the council votes to approve the budget, that will not necessarily represent a final decision on the pay increases, according to Rachel Stenta, the city’s budget officer.

According to Stenta, Utah law requires a public hearing to be held before public officials’ pay rates can change, so the city has scheduled a public hearing for June 11. At that public hearing, the city will discuss an ordinance that would make the pay raises final.

The city might approve the proposed budget Tuesday or at a later meeting. Even if it does, it could vote after the June 11 public hearing not to approve the salary increases, according to Stenta. This would mean that, although the proposed salary increases are budgeted, a smaller amount is actually spent.

New retirement benefits

The city currently pays out about $800 on behalf of each council member for benefits that they do not receive in their paycheck. This money goes toward workers compensation and federally-mandated contributions from employers to Social Security and Medicare.

For officials paid above a certain salary threshold, Utah mandates the city to offer each elected official certain retirement benefits. The proposed pay increases would put city officials above this threshold, meaning the city would have to increase its non-paycheck, employment-related spending on each official to about $6,500.

In total, the city would spend roughly $31,500 versus the current $9,500 on each elected official if the proposed pay increases pass. This amount might be smaller on an individual basis if council members or the mayor decline the retirement benefits.

No raise until 2020

The pay increases for the elected officials, if approved, would not take effect until after the 2019 city council elections. The pay increases would take effect when the three council members elected in November take their seats in January.