With just two citizens speaking at a public hearing on the topic, the Moab City Council stalled adopting a pay scale that raises compensation for its members and the mayor.

The increased salary and health benefits package totaling upwards of $150,000 annually is now awaiting approval to be included in the city’s budget. If it is approved, the city’s budget must first be voted upon and approved before the pay raise would take effect.

Resident Allison Brown was the sole citizen who spoke against the pay raise at the hearing.

“I believe you guys ran for mayor and council because you had a vision for the city, not because you needed a job,” she said.

“You’ve proposed a 2% COLA (cost of living adjustment) for all city employees except the planning commission. You’ve proposed … (an) increase in compensation for yourselves,” she said. Brown is chair of the Moab City Planning Commission. “What I ask is, I would like you to justify to all of the other part-time city employees why you are more deserving of health benefits than they are.”

The other resident who spoke was Barbara Hicks. She expressed uncertainty at the council’s paperwork and recommendations for compensation.

The paperwork that was being shared wasn’t clear: a piece of paper listing the agenda item for the 2019-20 pay plan said it included an attachment with the proposed pay ranges and a 2% COLA, but the attached document stapled to it had a headline of “Proposed Pay Plan 2018-19, 3% COLA” with an attachment B on the backside of the paper directing people to “see approved pay plan.”

Although she said she wasn’t able to clearly understand the council’s budget paperwork, Hicks said she still supports the council “100%” in its efforts to raise its pay.

“I’m definitely in favor of increased compensation,” she said. “My primary reason is, you guys have really not gotten a big raise in 20 years and unfortunately, you’re playing catch up and it’s happening all in one year. I’m sorry that that’s falling on your shoulders, but it’s long overdue, and whatever you come up with, I’m sure it’s going to be fair and equitable.”

With no further comments from citizens, the public hearing was closed.

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus said there was “much needed discussion” on the documents around the proposed pay scale and budget before any decision could be made and said “…this decision is not one we are taking lightly.”

As the council moved into its discussion, confusion was expressed around the documents being shared and council members asked questions, indicating that documents being used and shared for the budget planning either didn’t match with other records, were not up-to-date or were incorrect.

“There’s a logistical moment of truth that we need to have with CivicPlus, which is what we use to publish our agenda items and attachments,” Niehaus explained. “And like all good tech, there are glitches …”

Documents shared recently with the Moab Sun News by Moab City Manager Joel Linares and Moab City Finance Director Rachel Stenta showed the proposed compensation scale would raise each city council member’s annual salary to $25,192, up from about $8,500. With an additional $6,550 proposed for each council member’s health benefits, the documents show compensation of $31,742 annually for each member, bringing the total annual proposed compensation to $158,713.

These figures are likely to change depending on the final public hearing on the proposed budget, and how the individual council members utilize different insurance options.

“I will just express my opinions about my opposition to voting tonight … because I don’t like voting right after we’ve had a public hearing,” council member Rani Derasary said, “but personally I’m very uncomfortable with — and I understand we’re dealing with electronic issues, but — what was in the packet, I couldn’t understand it, and I really didn’t understand how a member of the public was supposed to be understanding what was being proposed. … I just think it would be wrong to vote on this tonight.”

Derasary said she would like to give the public more time to understand the documents and provide comment “because it’s been very hard to figure out. Like I said, I went back and looked, I couldn’t figure out what was being proposed. … Like I said, if I was the public, looking at the packet, I could not tell …”

Linares said “it’s perfectly fine” to provide another opportunity for public comment at the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting before the council makes a decision.

The agenda item was tabled with a vote of 5-0 motioned by Derasary and seconded by council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd.

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