Not bad for government work?

City, Montezuma County salaries on the low end of average

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Will Furse

In a tie for the lowest DA salary in the state. Enlargephoto

Will Furse In a tie for the lowest DA salary in the state.

Salaries for Montezuma County and city of Cortez employees in many instances are lower than other municipalities around the state.

Salaries for elected officials in the county are tied to state statute with the exception of the district attorney in the 22nd Judicial District, which is funded by two counties and the state.

All salaries for city and county employees are posted and available to the public.

County Administrator Ashton Harrison, who earns $91,284 a year, explained that Montezuma County is considered a Category 3 or middle of the pack entity, and salaries for elected officials are set by the state.

The three county commissioners, Steve Chappell, Keenan Ertel and Larry Don Suckla each make an annual salary of $58,500. That's the same salary for the city clerk, the assessor and the treasurer. Sheriff Dennis Spruell, which is also an elected position, earns $76,000 annually.

By contrast, the largest municipalities and counties like Denver's Jefferson County are classified as a Category 1 entity and the salaries for these positions are much higher for that reason.

A Category 1 county commissioner, city clerk and treasurer all make $87,300 annually, while the sheriffs in these locations earn $111,000.

The top wage earner for Montezuma County belongs to the attorney position at close to $112,000 a year. That position is now open after county commissioners recently voted 2-1 to not renew Bob Slough's contract. A replacement or possible salary for the new attorney has not been discussed.

DA lowest paid in state

Will Furse, the new DA for the 22nd Judicial District, is tied for the lowest salary among all district attorneys in the state.

According to figures from the Colorado District Attorney's Council, Furse's salary is $130,000 a year, though there are numerous other district attorneys with the same salary.

The highest DA salary in the state belongs to Denver County DA Mitch Morrisey who makes $201,000 a year.

Harrison said counties are required to pay a minimum salary amount for DAs, though it is the county's decision on whether to pay more than the minimum.

For the 22nd Judicial District either Dolores or Montezuma County could decide whether to increase Furse's salary. The state also pays a portion of the DA's salary in all jurisdictions.

Furse said he knows the reason his salary is tied for the lowest in the state, but added there are ramifications to not paying employees the going rate.

"I think that reflects an unfortunate reality of our county and the district budgets," Furse said.

He also said it is logical that a person seeking a career will go to the location where the pay is better and counties not paying as much may not be able to attract the top candidates.

"The county needs to realize the importance of spending money on law enforcement and prosecution," Furse said on his first day in office on Jan. 8. "We can all agree that law enforcement and prosecution are those things that are a necessity in a civilized society."

Harrison said that of the county's $37.8 million budget, almost $9 million of that is for salaries.

Harrison also said he believes the salaries of Montezuma County employees are a little bit lower than other government entities in the state, and one reason is the budget constraints.

Even with the lower salaries, very few employees use the county as a springboard to better paying jobs in other parts of the state.

"We just don't have that same level of turnover (as other places)," he said. "It's a very low turnover rate."

Part of the reasons for the salaries is that the county is considered a mid-size county, and Harrison said the categories are based on population and assessed valuations along with other factors.

Low pay for Police

In June 2012, 15 Montezuma County patrol deputies were on the payroll and their pay ranged from $3,348 to $4.650 a month. Sheriff Dennis Spruell said there are a lot of variables that are taken into account when setting pay rates, including experience and education.

If both classifications worked for 12 months at the same salary the yearly wage would have been between $40,176 to $55,800, both below the state average.

According to a 2009 report on police officer's salaries in Colorado taken from the Bureau of Labor statistics, the average salary of a sheriff or city patrol officer was $59,790 a year.

In June of 2012, according to county records, there were two sheriff detectives on the payroll earning between $4,429 and $8.843 for that month, while a detective lieutenant's salary was $5,408 for the month.

According to the same Bureau of Labor statistics, detectives and criminal investigators across the state on average earned a little more than $6,050 a month.

Cortez Police patrol officers earn between $32,073 and $50,316 a year while detectives make between $34,507 and $56,140.

The patrol sergeants and drug task force agents for the Cortez Police Department earn between $38,812 and $60,258 and Police Chief Roy Lane earns between $57,000 and $87,215 a year.

This police chief's pay range is the same for the director of public works, finance and the director of general services.

The city declined to provide a list of salaries for this story and instead supplied pay ranges for the positions.

The City's side

Cortez City Manager Shane Hale, who makes $94,000 a year, said he thinks there are many employees working for the city who are underpaid compared to their counterparts across the state.

The city's payroll for the year is about $6.5 million, which is more than one third and less than 50 percent of the entire budget.

"In a lot of areas we are not competitive," Hale said, but declined to list those positions that he feels are underpaid.

"This (survey) came about because of the consensus that they are not being competitive on a lot of jobs," Hale said. "It seems to be extremely low. My sense is a lot of the salaries for our jobs appear to be on the low side."

The city manager said he does know why this is happening, and added it is what ended up occurring. He stressed that not every position within the city is underpaid when looking at the same positions and responsibilities of employees working for other cities.

To try to find out where the city actually stands, a survey is being worked on to determine who and if certain people are not being fairly compensated and by how much.

"If we need to get the wages up at some point that would have to come out of the budget, but first we need to see where they are at," he said.

The highest paid employees for the city, with the exception of the city manager, belong to both the library director and water treatment plant supervisor, both who can top out at more than $71,000 a year.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com

Steve Chappel

County Commissioner has four more years at 8,500 a year. Enlargephoto

Steve Chappel County Commissioner has four more years at 8,500 a year.