Reasoning that voters won’t approve a new form of government if they don’t know how much it will cost in terms of salaries and benefits, members of the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee struggled with how to make that information available.
They addressed the issue in a Friday, Nov. 8 meeting in which it was decided that future council members would earn $19,200 per year with the chair earning $22,200 – down more than $10,000 a year from what the current council earns.
They did not come up with a recommendation for a salary range for a future manager, agreeing the sitting council should handle that responsibility. Still, members continue to struggle with writing an optional plan that will spell out compensation so voters who will approve or reject the plan have the best available information.
While the vote to set council members compensation was unanimous, the discussion leading to the vote came with a variety of opinions. Member Walt Dabney was adamant that the position should offer an ample salary in order for younger people to have the confidence to run for office. Bob Greenberg suggested that the salary be set following a compensation survey for similar positions in like-sized Utah counties with similar populations, economies, assessed value and rural-urban split.
It was noted that such narrowly defined criterion would lead to slim pickings for comparison because Moab is unique.
The decision to lock on a precise figure will be delayed closer to the election so that figures match market reality in 2022.
This is the second time the study committee has adjusted the council members salary range lower than what it is currently – roughly $31,000 for members and $36,000 for the chair. It was reduced to $24,000 and $27,000 earlier this year and then lowered again after lengthy conversations last week.
When the current form of government went into effect in 1992, members earned $700 a month, or $8,400 a year. Based on that figure and adjusted for inflation, the current council would earn $24,000, according to Greenberg.
There was also discussion on the motivation behind running for political office. “The question we have to ask ourselves,” said Chair Steve Stocks, “is are we creating jobs or public service? It will be less work, and part time.”
Countered Dabney, “When we talk about public service … we just don’t want to appeal to the wealthy. The Texas Legislature is (made up of) all rich people because they pay so little nobody else can run. I’d love to attract some young people.”
Member Cricket Green hit the middle ground and made a motion to approve the $19,200 and $22,200 figures for the initial council members.
The conversation then shifted to the hours of work per week that council members will have to devote. The new form of government, if approved, would take away half of the current council’s responsibilities because a manager would handle executive duties. At $19,200, Stocks noted, someone who worked 40 hours a week would earn $10 an hour while someone who worked half that time would earn $20. Clearly, that is a scenario playing out with current council members.
“Some work half an hour a week and some work 40 hours a week,” said Greenberg.
Member Marcy Till noted that $20 an hour was a “decent wage” in Moab, albeit one that still falls short of meeting the cost of living in Moab.
“We can’t count on salary to be an impetus,” said Greenberg, who singled out Member Judy Carmichael, who along with Greenberg is a former county council member. “Judy didn’t care about the money and I was only in it for the money,” he quipped.
Dabney in fighting for higher compensation noted that council members often take abuse from the public. It can be a pretty damn uncomfortable place to be,” he said.
Carmichael, however, said older residents she has spoken to believe elected officials should be in it to serve, not to make a living.
If approved, the salary reduction would result in savings to the county of $137,000 a year, money the committee agrees is badly needed to bolster administration.
The study committee next meets at noon Friday, Nov. 15 to discuss redistricting.