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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Salt Lake County councilman has found a way to give the council a raise without increasing the budget, but critics think the idea stinks both because of the money and the way it affects county government.
The council handles billion-dollar decisions and represents more than 1 million people. Can it all be done in a part-time job? Council member Randy Horiuchi says, "Not really."
"The reality is the breadth of this job is so wide that you've got to put the time in or you're short changing the public," Horiuchi said.
He says more people are demanding to speak to elected officials, not their assistants, these days. At the county, those assistants, known as legislative aides, work and get paid about as much as the council members do.
Horiuchi's idea is to allow council members to increase their own hours and salary up to three-fourths time, but they would reduce the hours of the aide by the same amount. The Council's budget wouldn't increase, but council members would boost their salary in proportion, potentially to about $80,000 a year up from about $30,000.
The whole thing sounds like a bad idea to Steve Harmson, a former member of the county council. "This is the padding of pockets, the preserving of power," he said.
Harmson says this idea is a thinly veiled attempt to get more money for elected officials, and he has big-government concerns too.
However, Horiuchi insists that taxpayers would benefit from this change. "It actually could reduce the amount of money we spend in governance, so it's really a win-win situation for the public, who gets more of the elected official and more work out of the elected official than an aide," he said.
"This is going to create the ability to go behind closed doors and make deals, and going back to the old way of doing things," Harmson said.
Voters rejected the old way, the county commission form of county government, eight years ago. Changing it back would require another vote.
Other county council members say they're still absorbing the details of Horiuchi's proposal, but it has the potential to be one of the hot potato issues in the county this summer.
Story compiled with contributions from Richard Piatt and Andrew Adams.