On the EDge: 66 percent pay hike for council, mayor? Really?

Stock image | Photo by Niyazz/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — Santa came early to the St. George city government when his helpers voted unanimously Thursday to hike the pay of the mayor and City Council by a hefty 66 percent.

As a result, the mayor will now earn $50,000 annually and council members will be paid $20,000 a year. Previously, council members were paid $12,000 a year and the mayor received $30,000.

The rationale, of course, is that the last time the council voted itself a pay hike was 1996.

“Elected office, of course, is voluntary – nobody forces you to run – but as with other cities and towns, we do provide compensation to the mayor and the City Council in recognition of the costs that you incur in the office, both in terms of money and time,” City Manager Adam Lenhard said.

I’m not quite sure which costs Lenhard is talking about. I would imagine that they would go beyond legitimate mileage, travel and entertainment expenditures that are accumulated in the course of doing the city’s business.

“We know that you can’t make a living off of your city paycheck, and all of you rely on employment elsewhere to make ends meet,” Lenhard said. “But hopefully the compensation that you’re provided offsets the cost just enough so that elected office is something that anyone in our community could be involved with.”

It’s a matter of proportion, however, when you realize that the council will be earning just about as much as the average St. George resident, who makes $25,616 a year – far below the national average.

There is no problem with elected officials being compensated for their work, but serving as mayor or on the council in St. George is, in reality, nothing more than a part-time gig and should be compensated as such.

The bustling metropolis of St. George is growing, to be sure, but it certainly isn’t bustling enough to warrant such a substantial pay hike for elected officials.

This is an insult to the working men and women of the city when a city manager claims that the compensation for an elected official – especially the new rates approved last week – will not allow them to “make a living off their city paycheck” when that city paycheck is in line with what constituents are earning.

It was bad spin by Lenhard who was defending a bad decision by the council.

We hear a lot about how elected officials claim they run for office as a matter of public service, but that claim of service is tarnished when they start padding their paychecks.

Lenhard claims that this will, perhaps, increase the number of people interested in running for public office, but the thing is with more money on the table, all it does is encourage candidates to spend more money to get elected because, well, who couldn’t use an extra $20,000 or $50,000 a year by taking a part-time job, which, despite all the claims, is what this is.

What makes this hypocritical, however, is the fact that St. George is a hotbed of conservatism, which preaches loud and strong about fiscal responsibility. This pay hike is not in line with that philosophy.

Now, you’re not going to put these elected officials on the clock. If you paid them by the hour I am sure their compensation would not match what they will now be collecting. Being generous, council members and the mayor simply do not put in the hours to warrant the raises.

They hold down full-time jobs, as Lenhard said, and city business at this level just does not require that much time. Figure, generously, that a typical council meeting runs four or five hours and that there is some prep time involved to study the issues and talk to people. There are some committee assignments, of course, and boards they oversee, but this is still a part-time job, even though the council is making just about the equivalent of your average St. George resident and the mayor doubling that amount.

There is no particular skill set required to run for office, there are no educational requirements, you need no certification of any kind that would justify paying somebody full-time wages for a part-time job. All you need is the ability to pay the filing fee and cover your campaign expenses, which makes it fairly well within reach of most people.

This is, of course, nothing to be surprised about.

At the state and federal levels, our elected officials are making bank, and why not? Wouldn’t you give yourself a raise if you could? Last I checked, this so-called robust economy has yet to trickle down to the working men and women.

While the private sector and corporate America are free to do as they wish, this is taxpayer money we are talking about. This is money that comes from fees and fines and taxes; money that, one way or another, comes from our pockets whether it is a business passing on its overhead expenses or the city collecting on traffic tickets.

In the grand scheme of things, this hike, roughly an additional $60,000 burden on the annual city budget, may not seem like much.

Except, that money could go to the police department for equipment or personnel.

It could go to the fire department, which never has enough new gear.

It could go to more road repairs, our parks and green space, special events and services for residents, more books for our libraries, or any number of other expenditures that have a higher priority than fattening the wallets of the council and mayor.

The voters incessantly complain about how their tax money is spent, challenging each nickel that goes out, questioning the need for civic and social programs.

And they are always complaining about the value, or lack thereof, they get from what they pay their elected officials.

But, guess what?

You still keep electing these guys, over and over and over again.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • Not_So_Much December 11, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    What just froze over?! I agree (for the most part) with Ed. We are approaching a tipping point in Washington County and the city of St George.

  • Kilroywashere December 11, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Nah Ed, I disagree. 50k for the mayor of SG is not outrageous and 20k for council members is next to nothing. Go to Steven Wade and see what a Toyata truck costs these days and I’m not talking about the Tundra either. SG is growing. When was the last time you were in SF. Two grand slams and coffee + tip at Dennys was $52. A regular beer in NY is $10 in a bar or hotel, granted it is more than 3.2% alcohol.

  • iceplant December 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    Could be worse, Ed. This is So. Utah after all.
    Out here in Ivins, the mayor enriches himself by making sure every major construction project goes to HIS construction company or that of a close relative. I’ve voted against him but I’m in the minority and local yokels seem to think he’s a swell guy.
    Perspectives and such.

    • KR567 December 12, 2018 at 5:26 am

      Well then its obvious how they feel about you or about what you think

      • iceplant December 12, 2018 at 8:36 am

        What’s “obvious” is that you troll my comments.

  • Redbud December 11, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    This is the first good article I’ve seen from Ed, it is one of the best articles ever written, and I completely agree with him. The mayor and the other officials don’t deserve a raise until the wages in St George are increased as well for all workers!

  • Carpe Diem December 11, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    I heard a commercial on the Hawk yesterday about the auto sale site on stgeorge.com. So I checked it out!
    First car, a MBenz with 10 miles on it… $131,000.00 Then a bunch more, all over $100K. The City employees wont be buying any!

  • tazzman December 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    I have no problem with the mayor and the SGCC voting themselves a pay raise. Okay, do so as long as you give up your day jobs and divest in other money-making endeavors. Go for it Pike, et al. Resign from all of your other positions where you enrich yourselves and become true PUBLIC servants. I would gladly support your pay raise then. Otherwise, take a big $0 salary.

  • 42214 December 11, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    Ed, I thought liberal progressives were for big government and a nanny state. That’s a lot of work to pass all those restrictive ordinances and regulations so they must deserve a big raise.

    • iceplant December 11, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      Big government and a nanny state he says.
      That’s just what right-wing pundits and talking heads want you to believe.
      Hannity much?

      • bikeandfish December 11, 2018 at 7:36 pm

        There is truth to the generalization. The left seems to support the administrative state by default (EPA, USFW, etc). Its an inherent reality of regulation.

        • Red2Blue310 December 11, 2018 at 8:17 pm

          Not true, but they do want clean air, clean water and energy independence. Things republicans seem to disagree with. Pretty soon we’ll be setting our water on fire. Dope.

          • bikeandfish December 11, 2018 at 9:49 pm

            Its indefensible to claim the left doesn’t by and large condone federal government oversight and regulation. Its part and parcel for their platform. All of those agencies = employees = big government. Same goes for financial regulations, land agencies, education, HSS, etc. Especially true given our founder’s view of central government.

            Now, the right loves a massive military = tons of agencies/divisions = tons of people = big government. This is especially true given how big our military is in comparison to our founder’s vision. Which is why our debt and deficit often skyrocket under conservative leadership (military spending is significant compared to other agencies).

            Neither side can really claim they support small government when you do a true accounting of their history.

  • ladybugavenger December 11, 2018 at 5:30 pm


  • Kilroywashere December 11, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Oh come on folks, do your homework. Taylorsville, Sandy, and other cities with way less population and far less growth in Utah, the compensation for their mayors is over 80K. The national average for the entire US including small cities, large metropolises etc … is about $50K -2017. Add to that this salary gives incentive for others to run for mayor. Ed ‘s argument is based on local opportunity costs and that is simply a weak premise, comparing apples to oranges to make an emotional impact on his readers. Kind of what CNN does on a regular basis. $50K is simply on the lowest end of the scale based on population in the state of Utah. That does not take into account or factor in future growth. Look it up. B&F you do your homework, am I wrong here? I dont mind being fact checked.

    • bikeandfish December 11, 2018 at 7:34 pm

      Didn’t fact check it but trust your statements but Cedar City Mayor made $28k last year.

      Optics are bad for sure but I’m not against a decent compensation for running a town/county. I would think scaling it up slower would be better on a government budget but not sure how that is regulated.

      Don’t really have a strong opinion on this one. Different fish to fry at the moment.

      • Kilroywashere December 11, 2018 at 8:28 pm

        B&F… fact check please. Didn’t ask for opinion,,although it is your perogative. Cedar City < 1/3, definitelty 1/2 St George population. Go back to the drawing board, and let's get the real B&F conclusion. Por favor. Be honest and unbiased. Thanks

        • Kilroywashere December 11, 2018 at 8:37 pm

          Let’s establish 1 thing. I have no connection to Mayor Pike whatsoever. Met him once just over a year ago in front of the now crappy dead Jazz Garden.. RIP SG Rock&Roll. In fact , 5 years ago in support of B. Belnap, I surely attacked him politically in social media during an extremely contested nationaly politicized close election for County Attorney at the time. So there is no bias. Glad Belnap won.

        • bikeandfish December 11, 2018 at 10:01 pm

          No time for deep dive today hence “Different fish to fry at the moment.”

  • Kilroywashere December 11, 2018 at 6:04 pm

    Ok correction Sandy Ut 2017 96k population vs 84k st George 2017. Probably even population as of end of 2018. Gee look up their Mayor’s compensation . Not just salary rather total compensation. Wow!!!! Now the picture is clear. Try over double, and more+++++ And had to be capped. Yeah, nobody likes the optics of politicians giving themselves raises, I get it. Easy pickings Ed.

  • Kenneth LeFevre December 11, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Ed. Being forced to live in southern Utah appears to be causing you great pain and suffering. Every article that you write seems to be full of scorn and distain for the “good old boys” that control this horrible place. I can only assume that you are somehow captive here and that it is your cross to bear to just get through each day. I challenge you to find one positive thing to say about this area. I don’t think that you can do it.

    • Redbud December 11, 2018 at 9:42 pm

      Kenneth, I’ll say one good thing about this area. It has not yet earned the nickname “little Mexico” like Las Vegas just 2 hours down south to us. English is still the dominant language!

    • Carpe Diem December 12, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Ken, IIRC Ed used to live here, but sometime during the Obama years, he became an expat (go figure) and unless something’s changed, he is writing this from out of the Country in a place that has real, serious issues. He was real prolific writing op-eds for The Spectrum, and for all I know he may still do so but I haven’t looked at that site or paper for years. I don’t often see eye to eye with him, but find it a hoot that he pops up with commentary on the local politics that affect him not in the least. At least it keeps his writing skills tuned up, and he must have thick skin for all the blowback he gets. What people respond here was NOTHING compared to the way people used to respond in The Vent as I recall. Yanno, he must enjoy triggering peeps.

      • Kenneth LeFevre December 12, 2018 at 9:55 pm

        His bio states that he still spends time in St. George. In fact, I believe that I have seen him around town a couple of times in the past year. Ed obviously gets a real kick out taking jabs at us unwashed, uneducated local yokels. I think that we will all get by just fine if he decides to spend all of his time in Mexico. I think that he might just be afraid that he won’t be missed.

  • jpff December 12, 2018 at 11:16 am

    I admit that I feel uncomfortable with the amount of money our locally elected officials gave themselves, and I am uncomfortable that they themselves were able to do it rather than some independent committee making the decision. When asked why candidates run for office, they office say, “I want to give back to the community.” Obviously minus 20 or 50K! That they want to keep for themselves each year.
    I accept that some compensation should be given, but just because other communities have gone overboard with their pays does not justify ours doing the same.

  • LunchboxHero December 12, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    Wow, what a profoundly unconvincing argument Ed has made. And this line at the end:
    “You still keep electing these guys…”

    “You guys”? I guess we can assume this means the author didn’t bother to vote, so we can’t blame HIM for heaven’s sake. Well Ed, if you’re not gonna vote, you don’t have much room to talk then, do ya. Do you even live here?

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