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Trustees OK 50 percent pay hike for future boards

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

After getting mixed reviews from members of the public, the Carbondale Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to approve a 50-percent pay hike for future trustees on Tuesday — though the raise will not apply to anyone on the board until the next municipal election, in April 2016.

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Trustees, who currently are paid $600 per month, would earn $900 a month, and the mayor’s paycheck would increase from the current $1,000 a month to $1,500 per month.

Trustee Pam Zentmyer, whose term expires next year and who cannot run for reelection due to term limits, was the only trustee who voted against the pay raise (Trustee A.J. Hobbs and Mayor Stacey Bernot were absent).

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“I can’t get on board with this,” Zentmyer told her fellow trustees. “I just can’t get past the fact that we are the only board (in town government) that does get paid.”

She said she feels the trustee position is “a volunteer position” performed by people who care about their community and want to give back to that community, and that realistically the trustees cannot be paid enough to compensate for the time they put in and the stress they experience from the job.

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Consequently, she said, the $30,000 or so that this pay raise will cost the town should be “put to some better use.”

Others on the board, though, felt the raise is warranted, partly because it has been 15 years since the last time the board made such a decision, and partly because the job of being a trustee has gotten vastly more complex and time consuming.

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“It is at times a very hefty commitment,” said Trustee Allyn Harvey (acting as mayor pro-tem in the absence of mayor Bernot). “There’ve been some 20-plus hour weeks” that he said cut into his ability to earn a living at his day job as a media consultant.

“I don’t think $900 a month is really a huge amount of money,” Harvey continued, especially given the 15-year gap between raises.

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“It is a public service,” he conceded, regarding Zentmyer’s point. “But you also want to attract people (to run for election to the board) that might, you know, say, ‘OK, I can do that. I can fit that into my finances.’ And I want it to be diverse. I think this is an amazingly diverse group here (meaning the current board’s makeup.)”

Members of the public, who were invited to comment on the pay hike proposal, were anything but uniform in their views.

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Tom Adgate, a local resident who is working to garner public support for a tax hike to increase the revenues of the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District, said that when he read in a news story that Harvey had proposed the pay hike, “I thought, ‘That’s the height of hypocrisy,’” given Harvey’s public opposition to the fire district tax increase.

“He wants more money for politicians, but not for men and women who are crawling around on the ground (fighting fires), to try to keep us safe,” Adgate declared.

Adgate’s condemnation of Harvey’s position, however, met with resistance from Trustee Frosty Merriott, who said Harvey’s opposition was not about pay for fire fighters, but was about what Harvey perceives as an unwarranted hurry to get the tax measure passed.

“He just wanted to move a little slower with it,” Merriott said in Harvey’s defense.

Wayne Horak, a local resident who in 2014 ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board of trustees, also opposed the pay raise, telling the trustees, “I’m fearful that we will have more regulation the more you get paid.”

As an example, Horak pointed to the trustees’ ongoing revisions to regulations governing the legal cannabis trade in town, which he indicated left business owners dealing with ever-changing restrictions.

He also maintained that endless debates over development proposals drove the Kroger grocery chain, which owns the local City Market store, to at one point consider relocating to a planned new commercial area at the intersection of Cattle Creek and Highway 82 between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

City Market has since applied for development permits to build a larger, more modern store in Carbondale.

But Trustee John Hoffmann, who also steps down next year and cannot run for reelection due to term limits, rejoined that the pay hike is meant for future board members, not current ones, and pointed out that each trustee acts as liaison to “at least three boards” beyond their trustee positions, as well as performing a wide range of other duties and spending uncounted hours reading and digesting packets of information for meetings in Carbondale and other locales.

As an example, Hoffmann offered strong praise for Trustee Katrina Byars’ role as Carbondale’s liaison to federal bureaucracies and agencies looking into natural-gas leases in the Thompson Divide area, as part of the board’s opposition to gas drilling in that area.

Thanking her for “countless hours” of work on the issue, and for “really doing a professional job” in representing Carbondale’s position, Hoffmann noted, “the board that comes after us is not going to have any fewer duties.”

And the idea of the raise got considerable support from other members of the public.

“We all expect excellence from our elected representatives,” said local resident Richard Vottero, “and I think that this board deals with so many complicated issues, and so much information … that it’s a shoe-in that they ought to be compensated (better) than they are now.”

And Julia Farwell, a member of the town’s Environmental Board, supported the raise as a way to attract candidates who are a diverse cross-section of the community, rather than “people who have a lot of money and free time on their hands.”

In other action the trustees:

• Approved changes to the town’s regulations governing the legal cannabis businesses in town, clarifying restrictions on the cultivation of marijuana plants by individuals on their own property and requiring a 400-foot buffer between commercial cultivation facilities in town;

• Approved an expansion plan for White House Pizza, at the corner of 8th and Main streets, with certain conditions;

• Approved a special event liquor license for a fundraising event benefitting the Ross Montessori School, to be held on Oct. 9 at The Orchard in Carbondale.

• Approved Carbondale’s participation in a regional Water Efficiency Plan, after trustees were assured the plan poses no risks to Carbondale’s municipal water rights or its ability to plan for future water needs;

• Approved a resolution in favor of Wild and Scenic Designation for the main stem of the Crystal River, from its headwaters in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness Area downstream to a point just upstream from the Sweet Jessup Canal diversion structure;

• Approved an ordinance amending the town’s rules concerning decorations and other adornments of cemetery plots in the town’s two cemeteries.

• Approved a request from Ross Montessori School (RMS) to send a letter of support for a planning grant being sought by the school, from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GoCo) agency, to plan a “play yard” and “outdoor-learning environment area” that is to be open to the public after school hours every day. In addition, the town has agreed to be the submitting agency for the grant, and to accept the grant if it is awarded to RMS and pass the money directly to the school.

Published in The Sopris Sun on September 24, 2015.

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