Riverton’s City Council members seemed to agree on at least two things Tuesday night: First, that newly inaugurated Mayor Trent Staggs was being shortchanged. And second, that they felt uncomfortable renegotiating his salary.
“I hate having this whole conversation about what our pay is,” said Councilman Sheldon Stewart.
“It’s uncomfortable,” agreed newly elected Councilwoman Tish Buroker later on. “Here I am brand new doing this, so I’d like to get it over.”
Riverton’s mayor hasn’t received a pay increase since 2006. That’s because former Mayor Bill Applegarth was “adamant” about not having a raise, according to Councilman Brent Johnson — a decision that put the new council in a “very awkward position” Tuesday night as it unanimously approved a 35 percent pay increase for Staggs.
Staggs said the decision to raise his salary from $15,523 a year to $21,000, not including benefits, would bring Riverton’s compensation “into line” with neighboring cities.
Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Peterson, who represents about 8,500 fewer residents than Staggs does, holds a part-time position with an annual salary of $21,926.06. Part-time Lehi Mayor Bert Wilson, whose city has about 18,000 fewer residents than Riverton does, brings in $18,000 a year.
“A few hundred dollars a month from where we were is a difference,” Staggs told the council after it approved the increase. “It’s not materially going to make a difference in my standard of living, but again — the concept here to get it up to parity, I think, is important.”
Applegarth, Riverton’s former mayor, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he had “felt philosophically” he should not raise his own salary while in office. However, he said he thought the increase was rational.
“I obviously don’t have anything to do with it because I’m out of office, but I would have supported that for Mayor Staggs,” he said. “I think it’s a very reasonable pay increase.”
Not everyone seemed to be in favor of the change. At Tuesday’s meeting, Johnson told the council he’d been fielding questions from some residents who were upset about the issue.
“All of the calls that I’ve received over the last two weeks have been interesting, but I’ve been able to educate the individuals who have called me and comments such as, ‘Well, Mayor Staggs knew what he was getting into,’” Johnson recounted. “Yeah, he did. And he knew what the pay was then. But it had been suppressed for years.”
No one spoke in opposition to the pay bump during the public hearing. One resident did speak out in favor of the change.
“It’s a very bold move in any volunteer organization to look in the mirror and say, ‘What’s my value?’” said Gary Cannon. “I appreciate the mayor’s candidness in wanting to bring the compensation up to at least a comparable rate with the other cities. I think our prior mayor’s commitment and track record has no bearing on the compensation for where we should be.”
To avoid having to deal with the awkwardness of determining their own pay in the future, council members also approved a proposal Tuesday to follow South Jordan’s lead and create a compensation commission that would take on that responsibility.
“It really takes that kind of self-serving nature — well, the perception that it can be — out of there,” Staggs said of the commission.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the relationship between the number of residents in Riverton and Lehi. Lehi has 18,000 more residents than Riverton does.