Grand County Council members, top row, left to right: Jaylyn Hawks, Greg Halliday, Evan Clapper and Rory Paxman. Bottom row, left to right: Mary McGann, Curtis Wells and Terry Morse. [Moab Sun News file image]

The salaries of the Grand County Council members are increasing in 2019.

The council’s individual salaries will increase by 166 percent, to $31,000 for all council members, up from the previous salary of $11,651. The council chair will be paid $36,425.

Five members of the council — chair Mary McGann, vice chair Curtis Wells, Terry Morse, Evan Clapper and Greg Halliday — voted unanimously on Dec. 18 to approve of the salary raises. Two members, Rory Paxman and Jaylyn Hawks, were absent from the meeting.

Council members have long felt the pinch of working under what they claim has been the state’s lowest paid council salaries for years.

Wells has been a vocal supporter of a pay increase for council members. He wrote and placed an advertisement in the Moab Sun News on Oct. 18 that encouraged readers to consider this statement:

“Imagine trying to focus on your work if you’re making only $900 a month for 20-30 hours a week, including meetings during business hours. Show me a company that’s ran by what’s essentially volunteers, that’s responsible for a multimillion dollar budget and a similar size scope of work and I’ll show you a company that’s failing or bankrupt. Factor in cost of living for Moab residents and this becomes impossible.”

In a county budget report from September of 2018, Grand County Budget Officer Chris Baird said the Grand County Council was the lowest paid in the state and said the recommendation to increase the council’s pay came in part from data on council salaries in Morgan County, averaged by class of county.

Counties in the state are classified for the purpose of applying different statutory standards based on populations. Morgan County is a fourth-class county, while Grand County is listed as a fifth-class county.

A Morgan County news outlet reported in late 2016 that beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, its county council members had their salaries increased from $6,000 annually to $24,000.

End-of-year raises for city and county council members in municipalities across the state were reported by various news outlets throughout the month of December.

The Grand County Council chair’s new $36,425 salary is more than that of the new $35,925 salaries approved for city council members in Salt Lake City, but slightly less than the Salt Lake County Council’s $40,356 annual pay.

McGann said she was surprised when the budget advisory committee salary survey came back with such high numbers, but said that she feels the increase is fair.

“This puts us in the middle,” McGann said. “It doesn’t put us at the top.”

The raise sparked ire from outspoken citizens in the area who used social media to voice their contempt for the council’s decision. Council members acknowledged the public comments made on social media, but said some of the diatribe came from misunderstanding.

Former county council member Lynn Jackson took to social media to publicly decry the council’s raise.

“The lack of transparency really bothered me,” Jackson told the Moab Sun News, which reached out to him for comment following several social media posts he made to public community pages. “If you’re going to make that drastic of a salary increase, you shouldn’t do it at the last meeting of the year.”

County officials said there’s no evidence for a lack of transparency in their process and said the new salaries shouldn’t be viewed as something that was done with a “secret” intention despite the comments from members of the public.

“This salary increase was budgeted for during Lynn Jackson’s final year in office,” Wells told the Moab Sun News on Jan. 2. “We took our time to make sure we didn’t under or over compensate.”

Meeting documents and recordings are available online through the county’s website that show the county’s discussions and meetings around the topic of the council’s salaries.

“The claim that this years budget and the county-wide compensation increases lacked transparency has no factual evidence or standing,” Wells said. “Thanks to the hard work of the Grand County Budget Advisory Board, I believe this to be the most transparent fiscal planning process the county’s hosted in a long, long time. Grand County has not benefited in years past by grossly under-compensating employees or elected officials. We’ve now addressed that.”

Wells said he feels the new salary is “reasonable, considering I’ve put in full time hours for the majority of my term.”

Other commenters on social media were positive of the council’s raise. One person wrote “For a positive spin on things, the pay increase opens up an opportunity for folks to run for office that financially couldn’t afford to otherwise.”

“What this increase does is get us to the middle of where other councils and commissioners of our nature are,” McGann said. “There should never be another time that we need to make such a large increase.”

County employees and other elected officials were voted pay raises at the same meeting, also based on market analysis.

Salaries increase by 166 percent; Council members say it aligns with state averages

“This puts us in the middle.”