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Officials' pay hike up to state

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The amount of pay increase that will go to newly elected county officials beginning next year is expected to be in the hands of the General Assembly which last year approved a pay hike of 30 percent.

State lawmakers apparently realized that the 30 percent increase could be a tough sell to taxpayers back home who are the ones that actually pay the money for their elected officials' salaries. So, in the style of other recent statewide laws that let local governments "opt out" of various provisions, there is an opt-out provision in the new pay schedule law.

Local governments can choose instead to pay their elected officials a 20 percent, 10 percent, or zero percent increase. They can also do nothing and let state lawmakers take any heat for the 30 percent increase already scheduled to go into effect.

Delta County Commissioners have endorsed a 20 percent increase for the next batch of county officials that are elected. Other counties, but not all, are opting for lower amounts also, according to county administration.

If the General Assembly adopts a bill in 2016 allowing for the individual county increases, newly elected Delta County officials will see their pay increase as follows: commissioner, clerk, assessor, and treasurer from $58,500 to $70,200; sheriff from $76,000 to $91,200; county coroner from $33,100 to $39,720; and surveyor, from $3,300 to $3,960. The raise would include an automatic increase every two years to cover an accumulated cost-of-living entitlement for county officials statewide, many of whom serve in term-limited positions.

The pay increase issue gained traction last May when the General Assembly voted to increase pay for county officials by the 30 percent amount. A legislative study on the issue had concluded that the state-mandated pay level for local elected officials had not been increased since 2006.

In Delta County, a 20 percent pay increase will vault elected officials ahead of the county's waged and salaried workers in pay increases. County employees have gotten a total 13.1 percent pay hike since 2006, including a 1 percent across-the-board hike for 2016, according to the county administration.

County workers are also getting an insurance premium increase paid for by the county that amounts to another 3 percent benefit. The county's group health plan premium was increased a total of 16 percent for 2016 because of "over-utilization," the administration reported to commissioners.

If the 20 percent pay hike becomes applied to all elected county officials, in the year 2020 it will increase total county payroll by $94,534 annually, according to figures provided by the county. By the same calculation, a 10 percent increase would increase the county payroll for elected officials in 2020 by $47,083. The county budget will be able to accommodate the 20 percent pay increase, said county administrator Robbie LeValley.

In neighboring Mesa County, the administration released a statement on the commissioners there who opted for a zero increase in pay under the state law:

"Given our current county fiscal predicament, coupled with the fact that our employees have, for the most part, not received raises in the past seven years, we cannot, in good conscience, take a $21,750 [30 percent] raise," Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese is quoted as saying.

Also in the release, Commissioner John Justman says, "The commissioners can't support a $21,750 raise for ourselves when the county employees haven't had an across-the-board raise in the last seven years. Our revenue hasn't recovered enough to cover these costs."

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