Friday, August 5, 2005

Sun Valley budget boosts employee compensations

Budget talks to continue Aug. 10

Express Staff Writer

Financial considerations during a budget workshop Wednesday, Aug. 3, forced the Sun Valley City Council to consider the compensation for elected officials and city staff.

"I am a firm believer in having a pool (of money) for people running for government office, so they are not penalized to serve," Mayor Jon Thorson said.

The council considered salary increases, employee bonuses and a policy for community grants as they continued work on the draft of the approximately $5,291,000 budget proposed for the 2005-2006 fiscal year.

Thorson initiated the budget discussions with a recommendation that the council increase the salaries of the mayor and council members. Traditionally, Thorson said, an adjustment is made every four years, but the council has not increased salaries in the last four years.

The proposal would add $200 per month to the salaries of the four-member council. The mayor would see a $300-per-month increase. The pay raise adds $13,200 in total to the legislative budget.

Each member of the council currently receives a $1,000-per-month salary. The mayor earns $1,500 per month. The benefits include health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, a retirement plan and a $350 stipend for exercise activities.

Thorson said he believes the payroll increase is justified to fairly compensate civic service and to account for a greater workload. He indicated the council, due to the volume of work anticipated with updating the comprehensive plan, may change its monthly meeting schedule to meet twice a month.

"We have done an extreme amount of work in the last three years," Council President Ann Agnew said.

Agnew and Councilman Blair Boand agreed that the workload justifies a salary increase, but Councilman Kevin Laird and Lud Renick disagreed.

"I think part of this is giving back to the community. We are compensated fairly," Laird said.

A drafted ordinance proposing the change will go before the council Aug. 18 for an official vote. The mayor would be asked to break a tie vote.

Other compensation increases include bonuses for city staff. The budget includes $25,000 as bonus compensation for the city attorney and the city administrator. Bonuses for other city employees could total $41,000.

"I think if people do jobs above and beyond the call of duty they should be compensated," Boand said.

Renick demanded a real-cost analysis of city employees.

"We are building something into our system we may not be able to fund in the future," Renick said.

The council also reviewed its draft policy regarding the appropriation of grant funds to nonprofit organizations.

The council recently decided to strike a $100,000 contribution to the Wood River Community YMCA in the 2005-2006 budget. The request for funds—which ultimately asked for $500,000 over five years—reinforced the need to define a "Community Support Grant Policy."

"I was blown away when someone came and asked us for a half a million dollars," Boand said.

The YMCA request called for a $100,000 commitment from the 2005-2006 budget and succeeding allocations reconsidered each year based on the city's financial position.

In light of the large-sum request and public response, Boand suggested that if a request exceeds a certain amount of money the proposal should trigger a referendum.

During the meeting, the council considered another form of community support—a $25,000 request from the city of Ketchum to assist with the cost of maintaining parks and recreational facilities used by Sun Valley citizens.

The next council budget workshop is Aug. 10 at 9 a.m. at Sun Valley City Hall. The council will finalize its decisions at a final meeting on the budget on Aug. 18 at 4 p.m.

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