Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sun Valley considers raises for public officials

Potential pay raises spur heated debate

Express Staff Writer

Kevin Laird

A move by the city of Sun Valley to increase compensation for City Council members and for the mayor was met with mixed emotions at a meeting on Thursday, June 22.

The resolution, which would have established the method for determining compensation, died before receiving a vote.

The resolution outlined an equation that weighed the estimated time commitment of elected officials with the U.S. Census Area Median Income data and the total cost of current health, dental and life benefit packages. The goal was to ensure the best candidates for public office were not discouraged from running because of financial constraints, said Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson.

The method for calculating compensation came under fire from citizens and council members alike.

"I think your rationale is one others don't use anymore, and I would hope you don't continue," said Sun Valley resident Dan Pincetich.

"Are you aware of any other government agencies who have done this?" asked Councilman Nils Ribi of the proposed method of calculating compensation.

The mayor responded that he does not.

The city still held the second of three readings on the ordinance, which would officially instate the increase in compensation.

Sun Valley resident Kevin Laird, a former councilman, had a different suggestion.

"Why don't you lower the barrier for entry?" he said. "Cap the amount you can spend on elections ... so potential candidates don't have to spend $20,000 to $30,000 on their campaign. I just think your idea that higher compensation will attract quality people is kind of a weak argument."

Councilman Lud Renick appeared to agree.

"I have a philosophical problem with this," Renick said. "I don't see anyone who would be motivated by a 25 percent increase. We're here because we want to be here. We have not raised salaries for seven years, and the work load is at least doubled since you (Kevin Laird) were on the council."

Not everyone in attendance was adamantly opposed to a potential increase in compensation.

"I was with the city for four years before I was on the City Council, and in that time I have seen the work load double," said Councilman Blair Boand. "Most people think that it's only meetings ... but there is a lot of time commitments I don't think people realize."

The discussion will continue in next month's meeting, which is slated for July 19. At that time, staff will return with refined numbers that include all financial compensation provided to elected officials in Sun Valley.

The meeting at City Hall is open to the public.

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