Legislators want to give up power over salaries for county officials

DENVER – Fed up with the politically unpalatable task of setting county salaries, state legislators took steps Wednesday to turn the task over to county leaders.

Legislators want to ask voters to allow counties to set salaries for their own elected officials – commissioners, sheriffs, treasurers, assessors, coroners and surveyors. Under the state constitution, the Legislature sets county salaries, and only voters would be able to give counties the power.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 would put the issue on the fall ballot. It passed its first committee hearing 4-1 Wednesday, and it will need a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to make the ballot.

Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, said raising politicians’ salaries is always a political football.

“Do county commissioners have the intestinal fortitude to raise salaries?,” Herpin said. “I wonder if we’re just kicking the football into another field, and not solving the problem.”

Legislators have not enacted an across-the-board salary increase for county officials for eight years. They were contemplating a salary raise bill this year, but as the fall election drew closer, support evaporated.

After getting nowhere with the Legislature, county sheriffs said Wednesday that they support giving county commissioners power to set salaries.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle is in his last term and is worried about recruiting a replacement.

“Any mid-level or upper-level manager in my department … would all have to take significant pay cuts to become the sheriff of Boulder County,” Pelle said.

But county officials are not unanimous in their support of the idea.

“We are all over the map on this issue, literally and figuratively,” said Eric Bergman of Colorado Counties Inc.

The bill’s next test is in the full Senate.