UTA Board members get $11K pay raise — after advisory group says it set salary too low earlier

When officials persuaded Carlton Christensen last year to join the new three-member, full-time Utah Transit Authority Board after Gov. Gary Herbert rejected other nominees, he left a $143,000 a year job as director of Salt Lake County’s Department of Regional Transportation.

After he started at UTA, Christensen had to wait a few months for an advisory council to set board member salaries — but he knew that legislation had allowed a maximum of $150,000 a year for the job. The advisory group set it much lower, at $129,000.

“I had to cancel an insurance policy and do some other things to make ends meet,” Christensen said. “It was a little bit of a financial hit I had not expected.”

On Wednesday, the UTA advisory council — consisting of numerous local elected officials — said it likely made a mistake by setting board members’ salaries too low last January. So, it raised them to $140,000 effectively immediately, an 8.5% hike or an extra $11,000 annually.

Still, scores of other UTA officials will likely be paid more than members of the board that was created as part of reforms after years of criticism about high executive pay at UTA and other scandals. (For example, total compensation of former UTA President and CEO Michael Allegra was $402,187 in 2013, including a $30,000 bonus and benefits.)

New pay ranges adopted for executives earlier this year allow seven top administrators to earn between $130,000 to $231,730 a year. Another 12 regional managers of train and bus systems have a pay range of $117,752 to $202,814. And 23 other top administrators have a range of $99,996 to $167,101 a year.

UTA advisory council member Troy Walker, who also is mayor of Draper, said he proposed the $129,000 salary level for board members last January intending it to be a starting point for discussion. “It was seconded. Next thing you know it was voted on” without much discussion and passed.

“It’s my fault,” he joked.

Back in January, a compensation study commissioned by UTA said jobs in Utah with the skills and requirements of new board members pay an average of $178,000 a year — or higher than the maximum allowed by the Legislature. It also said members of full-time Wasatch Front county commissions or councils are paid an average of $135,000.

The advisory board decided in January to set the salaries at the same $129,000 level as the Davis County Commission — even though that county government has a third as many employees and a budget that is less than half of UTA’s.

Walker — who was one of the initial nominees Herbert refused to appoint to the new board — said Wednesday that the new $140,000 level is fair.

“We have some amazing people that have proven themselves in government and in private service,” he said. “They have taken to the job with all vigor and they’re working hard to make improvement to make this agency better and move it into the future.”

Advisory council member Clint Smith, who also is a Herriman City Councilman, said, “I believe in rewarding good employees because if you don’t, you are going to lose them … I think they are taking this agency in a new and better direction.”

Besides Christensen, the other UTA Board members are Beth Holbrook, a former Bountiful City Council member, and Kent Millington, former chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission.

Advisory council members also said it is wise not to pay the $150,000 maximum for now. Walker said leaving room for future raises is “our hook as a group to have the full attention of the trustees.”

The advisory council was created by the Legislature and has nine members, mostly local mayors or city council members, that by law advises the full board on budgets and service changes. It also must approve construction projects.

The advisory council said it intends to work in coming months on a more formal structure for reviewing potential board member raises, including setting goals for them and reviewing how well they are met.