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(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) TRAX rail service general manager Paul O'Brien walks the line at the Salt Lake City International Airport stop. The UTA board has adopted a new policy on top executive compensation.
UTA doubled execs’ bonuses last year while seeking tax hike
Controversy » Incentive pay bumped as agency sought tax hike to restore bus service.
First Published Apr 13 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated May 07 2014 06:00 pm

The Utah Transit Authority doubled spending on controversial bonuses for managers last year, while it sought a sales-tax hike it says is needed to restore bus service cut during the recession.

The agency spent $1.74 million on such bonuses last year, twice the $870,368 doled out in 2012, according to UTA salary data analyzed by The Salt Lake Tribune.

At a glance

2013 bonuses, compensation* for top UTA officials:

» Michael Allegra, general manager. Bonus: $30,000. Total compensation: $346,249.

» Bruce Jones, general counsel. Bonus: $30,000. Total compensation: $333,217.

» Jerry Benson, chief operating officer. Bonus: $29,918. Total compensation: $262,626.

» Andrea Packer, chief communications officer. Bonus: $29,918. Total compensation: $234,280.

» William Meyer, chief capital development officer. Bonus: $29,918. Compensation: $234,077.

» Dave Goeres, chief safety officer. Bonus: $29,918. Total compensation: $224,129.

» Matt Sibul, chief planning officer. Bonus: $29,918. Total compensation: $219,292.

For all UTA salary information, see utahsright.com.

*Compensation includes salary, bonus, paid leave, retirement and health insurance.

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The biggest individual bonuses for executives rose to $30,000 each, up from $25,000. That came on top of compensation packages, including benefits, that in some cases already topped $300,000 a person.

In comparison, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s total compensation package in 2013 was $151,294 — less than half of some UTA executives — with no bonus included.

"The public’s perception of what goes on with UTA’s management salaries and bonuses definitely would be an impediment" to legislators allowing a UTA tax increase on the ballot, said Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville. This year, he sponsored and nearly passed HB388, which would have done just that.

But after hearing that bonuses doubled, he said, "It would be very tricky from a public-relations perspective to get people to buy into that" now.

Echoing that view is retiring Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City, an outspoken critic of UTA.

"Giving large bonuses will affect its credibility with the Legislature," she said.

Ironically, "educating" the public to support such tax increases for future UTA needs is one of the goals its board set for officials to meet this year to win bonuses next year.

UTA defends bonuses as a tool to attract top talent and reward performance, and said the doubling was merely restoring a one-year cut in bonus levels made because of tough economic times. Still, the UTA board is looking at ways to change the bonus system — some of which may actually make it more controversial.

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Bonus amounts » The biggest bonuses of $30,000 each went to General Manager Michael Allegra and General Counsel Bruce Jones. Those checks were paid in 2013 to reward work done in 2012.

Allegra’s total 2013 compensation was $346,249 — the bonus on top of $178,881 in wages, $49,677 for annual leave and $87,691 in benefits. Jones received $333,217 — including the bonus, $208,803 in wages, $14,032 for leave and $80,382 in benefits.

Neither was the highest-paid UTA employee. That was Paul O’Brien, who retired as the rail service general manager. His total compensation was $450,618, including a bonus of $13,870.

UTA spokesman Remi Barron said O’Brien’s pay was high because of one-time payouts at retirement for unused vacation and converting sick leave to a health care account. "He is an industry leader in rail start-ups and served UTA for 15 years," Barron said.

Five other UTA executives received bonuses of $29,918 each.

They included Chief Operating Officer Jerry Benson (who had total compensation of $262,626), Chief Communications Officer Andrea Packer (total: $234,280), Chief Capital Development Officer William Meyer (total: $234,077), Chief Safety Officer David Goeres (total: $224,129) and Chief Planning Officer Matt Sibul (total: $219,292).

Bonuses topping more than $20,000 apiece went to three other managers, each of whom also had total compensation of more than $200,000 each.

Records show that another 21 managers received bonuses of more than $10,000 each, and all had total compensation above $100,000.

And at least another 36 managers received bonuses of more than $5,000 apiece, again all of whom had total compensation package of more than $100,000 each.

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