Friday, September 2, 2005

Elected officials dispute their worth

Feud erupts in Sun Valley

Express Staff Writer

A salary increase for Sun Valley's elected officials will be eliminated if no quorum is present at a meeting today set for the third reading of an ordinance authorizing the raises.

During a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 31, Councilman Lud Renick stated that he would boycott the Friday meeting to preclude formation of a quorum, which consists of at least three council members. He said in an interview yesterday that Councilman Kevin Laird would also not be present. Laird was unavailable for comment.

A $13,200 appropriation for salary increases, proposed by Mayor Jon Thorson, is included in the 2005-2006 budget. Thorson has contended that the increases fairly compensate civic service and account for a greater workload expected with the 2005 Comprehensive Plan Update.

However, Renick said Wednesday that he feels city officials are "very well compensated."

Before the increases can take effect, the council must also pass a separate ordinance authorizing them. Wednesday's meeting was set for a second reading of the ordinance after council members Ann Agnew and Kevin Laird did not attend a meeting Tuesday, resulting in the lack of a quorum.

The third reading is scheduled for today at noon.

Idaho law requires salary increases for municipal officials to be passed in a general election year, at least 60 days before the election. If the measure fails to receive the third reading today, the council will be required to wait until Sun Valley's next general election year in 2007 to address the issue.

The ordinance would raise council members' current salaries of $1,200 per month by $200. The mayor's salary of $1,800 per month would see a $300 increase.

As a means of comparison, Ketchum's 2005-2006 budget allocates $1,250 per month for council members and $1,500 for the mayor. Hailey council members earn $515 per month and the mayor earns $1,540. Bellevue council members receive $200 per month and the mayor takes home $400.

Thorson said Wednesday that the public should be aware that the cost of paying elected officials includes a benefits package that brings their earnings close to $30,000 a year. Benefits include a health insurance policy that provides coverage for spouses and children. Council members also receive dental insurance, life insurance, a retirement plan and a $350 stipend for exercise activities.

"What needs to be taken care of is having a transparently paid council," he said.

Renick suggested Wednesday that if the ordinance authorizing the raises is not passed, the city should retain the money in its budget and donate it to disaster relief for the area of the South stricken by Hurricane Katrina.

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