SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Democratic State Party Chairman Jim Dabakis criticized members of the Kane County Commission Monday for raising their own salaries from $21,000 to $39,000.
"This is an outlandish abuse of power by the Republican commissioners," Dabakis said in a statement released Monday. "Giving themselves an 85 percent pay increase in this time of economic uncertainty is reckless and fiscally irresponsible."
Later Monday, the three GOP commissioners took another look at the raises and decided to postpone the increase until a 10 percent property tax cut is in place, Kane County Commissioner Jim Matson said.
"There's some lessons learned here, and part of that is to get out in front with better information," Matson said. He said the raises, which had been set to take effect Oct. 1, will be delayed until the new budget year begins Jan. 1 — but only if taxes are cut.
Matson said he ran for office to be "a public servant, not an indentured one" and that taxpayers are getting a bargain given that he works 50 to 60 hours a week.
"There are still skeptics," Matson said. But he said the commission intends to adjust all the salaries in county, to ensure that hourly workers earned simliar wages to those paid by both public and private employees in silmilar sized counties.
The Southern Utah News reported there was controversy surrounding the commission's initial approval of raises at a Sept. 6 town hall meeting, their first pay hike in 12 years.
The commissioners reportedly said then their own personal finances were suffering because of how much time they spent on county business and that the increase would bring them into parity with similar sized counties.
"The total amount seems in line with at least what Emery and Beaver are paying," which, like Kane, are among seven counties ranked by population as fifth-class, said Brent Gardner, executive director of the Utah Association of Counties.
Emery commissioners earn about $44,000 a year, Gardner said, while Beaver commissioners make some $41,000. Among the other fifth-class counties, he said Garfield commissioners make $34,000; Juab commissioners about $26,000; Morgan council members $6,000 and Grand council members just over $8,000.
"It's probably hard for people to judge the amount of work and therefore justify a salary when they're unfamiliar with the duties and responsibilities and the time commitment that's required," Gardner said. "It's certainly justified from my point of view."
Kane County Democratic Party Chairwoman Caralee Woods said the raises come at a time of high employment in the county.
"Our commissioners have full time jobs of their own," Woods said, "and yet they just enriched themselves by nearly the same amount that the average Kane County citizen makes."