FARMINGTON — Democratic Davis County Commission candidate Steven J. Andersen says he will work for free if elected.
He would forgo a $684,600 salary and compensation package his Republican opponent, Commissioner John Petroff Jr., is projected to receive over the next four years if re-elected. “I know that this is a full-time, demanding job, and I am capable of giving this service,” Andersen said in an email to the Standard-Examiner.
Andersen, 48, of Farmington, is challenging Petroff in the Nov. 6 general election, taking issue with the annual six-figure salary and compensation package Davis County commissioners receive.
The complaint has a ring of familiarity to it.
The question most often asked of him by Davis voters regards how much pay county commissioners receive, Andersen said.
“It was an issue raised in the Republican primaries and was a significant cause of 44 percent of primary voters voting for (GOP challenger) Terry Spencer,” he said.
Petroff is projected to receive a “gross compensation” package, including fringe benefits, totaling $171,150 in 2012, said Mel Miles, Davis County personnel director.
Of that total, Petroff is to receive $119,518 in salary.
Fellow Commissioners Bret Millburn and Louenda Downs are projected to receive a “gross compensation” package, including fringe benefits, of $175,086 and $174,768, respectively, Miles said.
Those commissioners also will receive the same $119,518 in yearly salary.
Miles said the only variation in the three commissioners’ gross compensation is with their medical coverage plan.
But all three commissioners defend the salary and benefits they are receiving.
“I don’t have any problem in putting it out there,” Millburn said of his compensation being made public.
Downs said adding together the salary and benefits commissioners receive is “a glorified version” of what they make and that she works hard to earn what she receives.
Meanwhile, Petroff is beginning to feel like this is a one-issue campaign. “I would really like to talk about the substance of what we do,” he said.
If the compensation elected leaders receive isn’t fair, Petroff said, then there is the fear as pointed out by founding father John Adams that only the rich will be able to afford to run for office, in turn transforming the country’s democracy into an aristocracy.
Petroff said it also lends itself to the question: Should Andersen not receive compensation while in office, does that mean the person who captures the office after him has to follow suit?
“How does the next guy afford to run and not receive compensation?” he said.
And what happens if Andersen’s income outside of what he is to receive as a commissioner takes a sudden downturn, Petroff asked.
Does that mean Andersen begins taking compensation from the county after claiming he wouldn’t?
Petroff said when he captured the commission seat in 2009, he was unaware what his compensation would be but knew it would be a fair amount.
“I knew the job paid over $100,000 (a year), but I didn’t know exactly what the job paid,” he said.
But to earn his money, Petroff said, he works hard and is on call for the public 24 hours a day.
“This isn’t the job for somebody that doesn’t know what is going on. I knew what it took,” said Petroff, who is seeking his second four-year term on the commission.
“But I’m trying to tell you that it is not for the faint of heart.”
There is also some question as to whether Andersen can legally decline his commission salary and compensation.
“The (Utah Code) maintains the county shall pay the salary affixed but is silent on whether the recipient can waive it,” said Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.
“It is the opinion of our office that the officeholder would be able to waive their salary and compensation if he or she chooses.
“It is our understanding that a past deputy county attorney took a contrary position regarding the waiving of salary and benefits. However, we believe that was in error.”
If any county officer is willing to waive compensation, the county attorney’s office has no legal basis to oppose it, Rawlings said.
Compounding the salary situation, Andersen said, is that commissioners are receiving these salaries in difficult economic times and receiving compensation they establish themselves, raising several important principles such as checks and balances, transparency and communications, and fairness.
To avoid conflicts of interest regarding elected officials’ compensation, Andersen said he would propose an independent body be formed to make those decisions based on local and state standards.
Commissioners have the ability to create their own compensation and vote for increases in pay, as they did last year, he said.
Davis County commissioners did receive in 2011 the maximum 3.5 percent “performance pay” increase resulting in their salaries going from $115,476 in fiscal year 2010 to $119,518 in fiscal year 2011, Miles said.
By comparison, Weber County commissioners will receive in 2012 a salary of $104,416, or a “maximum” compensation package of $139,111, officials said.
Utah County commissioners in 2012 will receive a maximum compensation package of $150,000, with $103,896 of that being salary, said Mike Stansfield, public information manager for Utah County.
The compensation includes salary and benefits, like medical insurance, pension or 401(k) contributions and vehicle subsidy.
In Utah County, there is no vehicle subsidy, but commissioners do receive mileage reimbursement, Stansfield said.
In Davis County, the 401(k) contribution for commissioners was eliminated this year. Had the contribution remained in place, the commissioners’ compensation packages would have been about $6,000 more a year, officials said.
“What we see is that the Davis County commissioners are being greedy or foolish in the way they are spending taxpayer dollars,” said Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.
There is certainly nothing about Davis County that would account for the difference in pay to those comparable counties, Weber and Utah counties, Van Tassell said.
The totals calculated by the counties do not include any additional stipends commissioners may receive for serving on other agency boards.
Those stipends, Andersen said, should be stopped altogether to avoid conflicts of interest.