Are the salaries of burn plant and landfill employees of the county's Wasatch Energy Systems District too high?

Several new board members suspect they may be and questioned tacking on more financial incentives to an already over-lucrative pay scale.At the district's April board meeting recently, board member Max Hill, a Sunset City councilman who joined the board in January, said the pay scale seems a bit high.

Hill divided 58, the number of district employees, into the $3.4 million salary figure for the 1997-98 budget and came up with $58,400 average salary for each employee.

Despite such objections, board members approved several district employee incentive award programs by a majority vote.

Similar salary questions among board members have arisen in previous years, always coming from the new board members. Veteran board members seem comfortable with the salaries.

Hill also said his city, Sunset, operates on just a $2.5 million annual budget and serves 5,000 residents in the process.

District finance director Dave Van De Graff said the $3.4 million number is not a pure salary figure.

"It includes all benefit costs and packages," he said.

Van De Graff also said the figure is inflated by the many temporary employees the district had in late 1997, as well as a 25 percent increase in health benefit costs last year.

"That still seems high," Hill responded.

Hill said he's always answering questions regarding the high costs to Sunset residents for Wasatch Energy services.

District board chairman Jerry Stevenson, also the Layton mayor, said the board operates in a labor market and must pay competitive rates.

"I don't believe the salaries there are out of line," he said.

Stevenson also said if salary numbers in other industries also included benefits, their numbers also would rise considerably.

However, West Bountiful board member Val Petersen also expressed some concerns about district pay scales.

"Our payrolls have run amok," he said.

Stevenson said it's a complicated issue and a future look at the actual operating costs of the district in relation to the worth of labor might clear up the issue.

Board member Jay Ritchie, the West Point mayor, said he works in the construction business. He said every salary he's seen in the district for construction work is far less than everywhere else.

With the Salt Lake I-15 reconstruction project putting such workers in high demand, he said he's surprised the district can keep its many employees at such a low pay scale.

"Good equipment operators are hard to come by," he said.

Curt Oda from Clearfield, another board member, said he's a firm believer in incentive programs and that base pay issues could be addressed separately from the new budget.

He also said a look at the district's pure salary numbers - without benefits - might put things in perspective.