Breckenridge town council votes 7-0 to raise elected officials’ pay by 25 percent |

Breckenridge town council votes 7-0 to raise elected officials’ pay by 25 percent

Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe listens during a Breckenridge Town Council meeting last September. Wolfe brought up the topic of raising council members' and mayor's salaries last month, and council approved a 25 percent hike Tuesday on first reading.
Eli Pace / |

Come April, Summit County’s highest-paid town council will start seeing its first pay hikes in a decade.

Breckenridge’s elected officials voted Tuesday night on first reading to increase their positions’ salaries. As a result, serving on Breckenridge Town Council will soon pay $12,000 annually while the next mayor will make $18,000 a year, provided the measure passes again on second reading.

The new salary figures are up 25 percent from the mayor’s and council’s current annual earnings of $14,400 and $9,600, respectively. The decision was unanimous, and no elected officials missed the meeting.

“I think future councils will deserve this, and for the public’s sake, this is something that will be set until another council down the road decides to change it,” said Councilman Mark Burke, one of the biggest proponents for raising council’s pay.

“The hours that are given by elected officials in this town, as a guy who’s getting off (council) after eight years, I got to tell you I’m glad we’re doing it,” he added.

Before the discussion, town manager Rick Holman told council its pay scale hadn’t been adjusted in 10 years and any changes must be council-approved.

Holman reiterated that any raises, if approved, wouldn’t go into effect until after April’s election at the earliest, and no sitting council member would see a pay spike unless he or she wins re-election. Because the mayor’s seat isn’t up again until 2020, Eric Mamula will stay at the current rate of $1,200 per month for the next two years.

“Just for the record, I think it is awkward for council members and the mayor to have to make discussion on their salary compensation, which is why it hasn’t been revisited in 10 years and probably won’t be visited again for another 10 years,” said Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe, who first raised the issue at another council meeting last month.

Wolfe and Burke highlighted the commitment it takes to serve on council, and with both term-limited, neither had anything to lose — or gain — by speaking their mind. Burke urged his colleagues to support the raises and issue a “powerful” statement by making the vote unanimous. At the same time, Wolfe said she supported the raises for “the sake of diversity of future councils and overall fairness.”

Jeffrey Bergeron was the only council member to speak out against the pay hikes. Even then, he did so carefully and cast a vote in favor of the raises soon after.

“I said at the work session that I don’t think I’m worth any more than I’m getting paid,” Bergeron said in a lighthearted moment before getting more serious. “But the fact is this won’t affect me, and I will say many of you here put in many more hours than I do in this thing — because I’m just really efficient, fast and stuff — so I am going to vote for it. A lot if it is because of what Mark just mentioned; I think it’s important we have this be unanimous.”

In comparison to other Summit County towns, Breckenridge pays better than Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne do.

Every municipality’s pay scale is designed to ensure council won’t be a full-time job, but Breckenridge, which commands the largest tax base, also owns the biggest salaries for its elected leaders.

Town staff based the suggested raises on information gleaned from the Colorado Municipal League, which tracks elected officials’ pay across the state. While Breckenridge is tops among Summit County, the same can’t be said across the High Country. In Aspen, for instance, the mayor there earns $2,325 a month and its council $1,700.

While Aspen might be a good point for comparison, the Breckenridge councilwoman most apprehensive to even discuss the issue when it first came up last month might have given the best explanation for paying elected officials a little bit more.

“I just wanted to say that this was a harder decision for me,” Councilwoman Erin Gigliello said of the raises. “I am going to vote for it, and it does have to do with the fact it is a time commitment.”

Gigliello had already announced she’s seeking re-election, and at the last council meeting, shortly after Wolfe brought up the topic, Gigliello sought to recuse herself from the discussion.

That didn’t work, and Gigliello was more open to discussing council’s wages on Tuesday as she solidified her position.

“I think if we’re really going to go out into the community and say, ‘Anyone can be on this council,’ it needs to be worthwhile as a second job,” she explained. “I know a lot of people in our community have second jobs, and they rely on second jobs. Whether (the extra money) makes it a legitimate second job for people’s income, I think it’s a step toward that direction.”

Gigliello said council makes a lot of the decisions it does with working families in mind, “and I know in those discussions with the families about whether running for town council is a viable option, hopefully this will make it more attractive so we can have a diverse group up here,” she concluded.

“I agree completely with what Erin said,” Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence added, explaining that it is “somewhat awkward” for elected leaders to talk about their salaries, especially when they’ll soon be up for re-election.

“But I really look at this for future people and have considered there’s someone that would be great on council who is employed in an hourly job, but would they be able to take the appropriate amount of time away from work to serve on council?” she asked rhetorically. “I think it’s really important we keep a diverse council. … I believe it’s up to this council that we don’t set a precedent one’s wealth determines if they can afford to serve.”

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