During their last meeting of 2016, the Morgan County Council voted to increase their pay fourfold effective Jan. 1, 2017. Councilmembers’ pay will increase from $500 a month to $2,000.
In 2016, five council members were paid $500 a month while the chairman was paid $666 a month. A 6-1 vote on Dec. 20 made it possible for council members to start receiving $2,000 per month. The council chairman, Austin Turner, will now be paid $2,500 per month and the vice chair will earn $2,300 each month.
“This is not something we did haphazardly,” Councilwoman Tina Cannon said. “I realize this is going to be an increase that no one was anticipating. Not one member of the council is really thrilled with this.”
As such, she said it was important to make clear the reasoning behind the increase, which is the second council increase since 1997. Council members noted that their compensation had not been increased since 2005.
Cannon said she wanted three groups to understand why council pay is increasing: the council, county employees and the public. “It is quite the jump. I am not comfortable with it without the explanations behind it,” Cannon said.
Cannon said the pay increase is not only justified but required due to Morgan County’s recent change in classification, which is tied to population increases. On Sept. 16, the county moved from fifth to a fourth-class county according to Utah State Code. As such, an adjustment of county officer salaries—as well as other county employees such as the sheriff and attorney—was in order as compared to the next smallest fourth-class county in the state: San Juan County.
To determine the new Morgan councilmember salary, the three San Juan County Commissioners’ salaries were added together and then divided by seven, to mirror Morgan’s seven-member form of government, Cannon said.
“As a citizen body whose members serve on a part-time basis primarily in a legislative, policy-making role, the council puts forth significant time and effort on behalf of the best interest of Morgan County, its citizens and the general public,” reads the approved ordinance.
This “significant time” was something she did not expect as a newly elected council member, Cannon admits. “I stepped into a bigger responsibility than I thought. This time has always been there, but uncompensated” for current and previous council members.
“It is difficult to put in the type of time this office requires,” she said. “To have that type of time is rare. You have to be retired, unemployed elsewhere, or self employed.” She said the previous low salary also discourages community members from “participating,” or running for the elected office. The increase would “encourage and maximize citizen participation,” Cannon said.
Cannon also said the increased salary was in response to recent state audit letters.
“We keep getting dinged on audit letters,” Cannon said. “The council needs to understand its role. (The county auditor, Chuck Ulrich) was clear on that in 2011. He felt a lot of things happening in our audit were because the council was not administering its role. The state auditor addressed that again in his letter to the county (saying) the council needed to understand these responsibilities.”
Outgoing Councilman Logan Wilde, who will be part of the state legislature in January, said the Morgan County Council has historically passed off its own responsibilities to other elected officials.
“It has happened over the past, the council has given their authority to outside forces,” Wilde said. “As lay elected officials, we have allowed and forced upon other elected officials to take our role. We have gone into offices and told them they are taking on new responsibilities. We have looked to them to solve our problems, problems we need to be solving ourselves.”
He said the increase in salary was a message to the council to “step up and do your job in setting policy.”
Councilman Austin Turner agreed. “A lot of issues in this county should fall squarely on our shoulders,” Turner said. “We have some responsibilities we are not fulfilling.”
“It has evolved into a tug of war between elected officials and the council,” said Councilman Robert Kilmer. “This board has backed down when confrontation happens, to the point where we are not fulfilling our duties. The council is in charge of setting policy on the operation of business in the county. If we all—elected officials, employees and the council—look at as business discussions and not personal attacks, thing can change.”
Cannon said in her analysis of Morgan’s change of government from a three-member commission to seven-member in 1997 show that the intent was to “dilute” the power of the government. Diluted or not, the change of government did not eliminate the council’s responsibilities completely. She noted that the change of government intended for an administrator. “Then Garth (Day), bless his little heart, destroyed any confidence in that,” Cannon said, alluding to the former council administrator’s malfeasance. Now “the responsibilities come back to where they originally were,” she said.