County officials ask Legislature for raise

DENVER – County officials who want a raise got a mostly warm reception Tuesday at the Legislature, which has the power to boost their salaries.

Four lawmakers are drafting a bill to raise salaries, but before they introduce it, they are looking for support among their colleagues for what’s sure to be a politically risky vote.

Their plan includes not only county pay hikes, but also raises for the governor, attorney general and other statewide officers, who are among the lowest paid in the United States.

County officials made their case to the Legislature’s local government committees Tuesday morning.

“Please have the courage to do the right thing for hard-working public officials,” said Teak Simonton, the Eagle County clerk and chairwoman of the County Elected Officials’ Salary Commission.

This year represents the last chance in four years to give raises to most officials, because by law, raises can’t take effect until after the next election.

Under the commission’s proposal, salaries would rise 20 percent in medium-sized and large counties – including La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta – and 15 percent in smaller counties.

That equates to a 2.5 percent annual raise since 2006 for the larger counties, and 1.25 percent for smaller counties, Simonton said. The salary for Montezuma County commissioners would rise from a current $58,500 to $70,200.

County officials have not had a raise since 2006. At the same time, salaries for other county workers have gone up 12 percent to 18 percent, Simonton said.

County officials believe raises are necessary to attract good candidates for office.

Deputy Attorney General David Blake said state elected officials also need a raise for the same reason. It’s been 16 years since Colorado raised its salary for the top five state officials – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. Salaries for those offices are now in the bottom three in the country, he said.

“Quite frankly, over time, you will get what you pay for,” Blake said.

Legislators greeted the recommendations with mostly positive remarks Tuesday. The only exception was Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita, who said there are quality candidates running for attorney general despite the $80,000 salary.

Four legislators are working on a bill that would raise salaries for both county officials and the top five state officials.

The governor’s new salary would be the same as the state’s chief justice, which is $147,845 this year, said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, a sponsor of the bill. The attorney general’s salary would be tied to a lower ranking judge, and the other three offices would be paid 10 percent more than county clerks in the biggest counties.