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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat City Council to consider changing how much they are paid

If council decides to pursue a change, it would appear on a potentially cluttered ballot in November.

Steamboat Springs City Council in Chambers
Steamboat Springs City Council meets on Tuesday, May 2, 2023. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)

Steamboat Springs City Council will begin discussing changing the amount they are paid for serving on the city’s governing board at a work session on Tuesday.


Tuesday will be council’s first discussion on the topic, and if they decide to progress toward changing what council is compensated for their work, it would need to be approved by voters in November.


Regular council members are currently paid $11,869 a year for their work and they are also eligible for medical and dental benefits at the same premium as city employees. The council president is paid more — $15,808 — and the president pro-tem is paid $13,852. Council members are also able to contribute to a retirement plan and have the option for other flex benefits.


Based on data from the Colorado Municipal League, council members in peer communities make anywhere from $4,800 a year in Dillon to $20,400 a year in Snowmass.


When adding up all the peer communities in the materials that city staff put together — 25 of them, excluding Winter Park and Aspen because they pay either per meeting or per hour, respectively — the average compensation is just shy of $10,000 a year for council members, based on The Yampa Valley Bugle’s analysis. In that group, Steamboat is one of the larger communities.


Staff made a different estimate that ranged communities between Frisco and Snowmass that found the average to be 11,590 for council members.


Steamboat had a population of 13,390 according to census data as of 2021. With a much smaller population of 1,967, Hayden town council members get paid just $1,200 a year. Last year, Hayden Town Council voted to allow council members to participate in the town benefits plan, something Steamboat council members are already allowed to participate in.


The idea of raising council wages came up briefly on Tuesday last week in the context of it needing to be placed on the ballot. City staff have asked council place a minor amendment to the city's charter on the ballot, and council members worried adding that could be asking the voters to keep too many issues straight in one election.


The charter amendment would change when the city's audit needs to be completed. Currently, it needs to be approved four months into the year, and it has become increasingly difficult for staff and outside auditors to meet that deadline. Staff is proposing a change to six months into the year, which aligns with what other agencies in Colorado do.


“There’s almost nothing more boring than moving an auditing deadline,” said Council member Joella West. “Now you open the ballot and there’s nice language and I’m sure that it is short language, but it is there and I have no idea what this is and it looks like something that I don’t care about, so my knee-jerk reaction is to vote no.”


“Certainly with a lot of things on the ballot, this is the first one you get to ignore,” West continued.


Council has signaled that it intends to ask voters about updated spending rules for the city’s accommodations tax already. The ballot may also feature a referendum on Brown Ranch annexation as well, which could be spurred by resident petition. If council raises and this audit deadline measure were added as well, it could mean there are four items for voters to consider from the city.


Council decided to keep the potential charter amendment on the table, with a decision of whether to pursue it being made later in the summer.

City Manager Gary Suiter pushed for the audit deadline to be added though, saying Steamboat voters have the capacity to understand what each potential measure would do.


“The electorate is smarter than you think, they figure out housekeeping items,” Suiter said. “Housekeeping stuff, I think I’ve only seen one in my career that failed. … I would predict it would pass overwhelmingly, regardless of how political things are in the community.”


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