Breckenridge eyes raises for elected officials
December 28, 2017
Few people could survive in Summit County on the wages Breckenridge pays its elected officials alone, but Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe knew she was still broaching "a difficult" topic when she recently suggested now might be a good time to revisit their pay scale.
Elected to a second term in 2016 and unable to run again because of term limits, Wolfe wasn't advocating for herself when she said that, "it's time to consider raising council's pay and the mayor's pay," at the Dec. 12 council meeting.
Rather, the two-term councilwoman was simply expressing her belief that the responsibilities of a job she's done since 2012 aren't adequately being compensated by the salaries council members receive. And shortly after Wolfe brought it up, Councilman Mark Burke offered his support.
"I'm right with Wendy," he said. "I think it's a major time commitment. It's not just council meetings — it's researching, studying, going to committees. I just think $800 for a councilperson and $1,200 for the mayor is just — I've been on eight years and we've never done salaries at all."
Per town ordinance, members of Breckenridge Town Council are currently being paid $800 per month while the mayor receives $1,200, making Breckenridge's elected leaders the highest paid out of any town in Summit County. Still, based on the amounts they receive, no one's getting rich serving as mayor or on town council anywhere around here.
In Dillon, for example, the mayor makes just $900 per month, while newly elected council members are paid $400. This reflects Dillon's decision in 2016 to raise council's pay, taking each member's salary from $300 a month to the $400 level after their next election.
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Frisco's elected officials are also scheduled to receive a pay hike, and starting April 30 the mayor's salary will increase from $950 to $1,050 a month. At the same time, Frisco Town Council members will see their paychecks jump $100 every month to $600 per month, according to town code.
In Silverthorne, public service is apparently more of a labor of love than it is anywhere else in the county because Silverthorne hasn't updated its elected officials' salaries in over a decade, according to town manager Ryan Hyland. As a result, Silverthorne pays its council members each $300 a month and its mayor $750, making them the lowest-paid elected town leaders in Summit County.
Looking at another comparable Colorado town, Vail's mayor is paid $1,000 per month, for instance, while council members each receive $625 a month, according to a human resources employee who described Vail's elected officials as "very similar" to Breckenridge's.
During the December council meeting, Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula asked town staff to collect more information comparing Breckenridge's elected officials pay to that of other Colorado towns. Town manager Rick Holman responded that they already have access to much of that data, and based on a "cursory glance," he could safely say Breckenridge is "probably middle of the pack."
If Breckenridge went up to $1,100 or $1,200 a month for council members and $1,500 a month for the mayor, Holman hypothesized, "there'd still be people above that, but it would probably put (Breckenridge) in the upper 25 to 30 percent in the state."
While Breckenridge stands atop Summit County's pay scale for town leaders, its elected leaders' salaries are a paltry sum compared to what Summit County's three commissioners make.
The primary reason for that is the commissioners are expected to be full-time lawmakers, while Breckenridge has a citizens council, in which the elected officials are expected to have other sources of income.
Burke said he doesn't think someone should ever run for office for the pay, but he also said a higher wage "might make it more affordable for someone who doesn't have the resources to serve this amount of time for the dollars they're getting."
Also the commissioners' salaries are now being buoyed by a new state law that was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in the summer of 2016 and set into effect a cascade of pay spikes for a number of state and county officials alike.
As a result, Summit County's three commissioners either saw or will see their salaries jump roughly 30 percent — from $72,500 to $94,250 annually — at the beginning of their next term.
One provision in the new state law also provides for a regular cost-of-living increase once every two years, and after Wolfe raised the issue in Breckenridge, discussions briefly swung to county commissioners' salaries before Breckenridge town officials arrived at some of the same conclusions state legislators did less than two years ago.
Responding to Burke's and Wolfe's suggestions that any decision Breckenridge makes this year on elected officials' pay could remain in place for the next 15 years or more, Dudick proposed tying elected officials' salaries to something like the consumer-price index, so the town won't have to come back to the difficult topic nearly so often.
"You can say it's going to increase 3 percent a year, and that is a done deal," Dudick said, providing an example of how a system like that might work.
"That's a good point," Burke replied. "It never has to be revisited."
Dudick didn't seem to advocate for or against raises during his remarks, but he was agreeable to putting it on a future agenda while offering up one fact that might be pertinent to the discussion: "Our tax revenue is greater than the other four jurisdictions of the county combined."
Other council members were more apprehensive about discussing the possible pay hikes, including Councilwoman Erin Gigliello, who asked to be let out of the discussions entirely.
"I would like to be recused," she said, citing her plans to seek re-election and the impact any council-approved raises could have on her paychecks if she is successful.
For elected officials to recuse themselves, however, the move must be OK'd by a majority of the remaining council members, agreeing there's a significant enough conflict of interest to warrant one.
Because the council's raises, if approved, wouldn't go into effect until after a sitting council member is re-elected or until a new person is seated into the position, two decisions that would both be made by voters, Gigliello wasn't getting off the hook on this one.
"I don't know that you can recuse yourself just because it's a difficult conversation," Mayor Mamula responded to her request. "I think you're better off, if it's that uncomfortable, you're better off voting no."
On Thursday, Breckenridge town staff confirmed that, at council's direction, they are working on such a proposal regarding the council and mayor's pay, and it should come up at town council's next meeting on Jan. 9.