Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The take-home pay, excluding benefits, for the governor of the state of Utah is $109,000 a year.
In December 2014, when the Utah Elected Official and Judicial Compensation Commission proposed the governor and other state-elected officials should get a 36.5 percent salary increase, several KSL viewers voiced their dismay over the idea on the KSL.com comment board.
“Politicians are overpaid already,” one person wrote.
“A $40K pay raise is ridiculous,” another said.
“…As long as people are willing to work for the wage, it is an acceptable wage,” another commenter countered.
According to the Council of State Governments, Gov. Gary Herbert takes home more than the governors of Wyoming and Arizona, and less than the governors of Idaho and Nevada.
A KSL Investigators survey of 30 Utah municipalities also shows Herbert earns less than about 200 city employees across the state. We filed records requests shortly after the state salary commission released its report.
The requests were filed from St. George to Logan in December 2014 and included some of Utah’s largest cities. We wanted to know which positions earn $110,000 a year or more — in other words, more than what the governor earns.
Highest paid city officials
In general, KSL’s results show city managers and chief administrative officers, the people in charge of a city’s day-to-day operations, earn the highest salaries.
Our survey showed the highest paid city manager is West Valley City’s Wayne Pyle, who holds the title of chief executive officer. Pyle earns an annual income of $191,734.00.
“People say, 'Wow, (government officials) make too much money, and they don’t do anything,' because that’s the traditional view of government,” Pyle said.
People say, 'Wow, (government officials) make too much money, and they don't do anything,' because that's the traditional view of government.
–Wayne Pyle, WVC city manager
Having worked in city government for more than 20 years, Pyle explained the job of a city manager involves several responsibilities — from bringing in new development and transportation projects to assisting in the negotiations of legal settlements.
He said the daily operations of city governments have become more like the operations of major corporations, and he’s never really “off the clock."
“You can literally look at the operations we have and divide it up into almost 30 different types of business units," he said. "Everything from a small law firm, to a concert event industry like we have at the Maverik Center, to public safety, to fire, to finance, accounting.”
Pyle manages a budget of nearly $100 million, oversees about 1,000 employees, in a growing city of 130,000 residents: "It literally is a CEO position with all the responsibility that it bears," he said.
Pyle said West Valley City conducts annual salary surveys and compares wages — both locally and regionally — to similar job positions.
Pyle suggested, when it comes to government salaries, it may be time to shift our thinking.
“What’s the return on investment? What’s the value I bring?" he said. "Don’t think of it in terms of what it’s costing you, because obviously professionalism and competence is going to cost money."
City manager/administrator/chief administrative officer salaries
Top paid position in 10 Utah cities
|$272,313||Salt Lake City||Executive director of airports|
|$191,734||West Valley City||City manager|
|$163,634||Sandy||Chief administrative officer|
|$153,980||St. George||City manager|
|$146,292||South Jordan||City manager|
|$146,292||South Jordan||General counsel|
The KSL Investigators found that across Utah, salaries vary for leaders in charge of city operations — city managers, city administrators and chief administrative officers.
For example; in Layton the position pays $163,900; Riverton $157,437; St. George $153,980; Midvale $151,902; South Jordan $146,292; Orem $142,800; Ogden $142,188; $141,371; Provo $137,884; Bountiful $133,078; and Spanish Fork $129,204.
Elected city officials
Our survey shows two full-time mayors earn more than Utah’s governor: Sandy's mayor has a salary of $128,461, while Salt Lake City's mayor earns $133,746.
Highest city salary
The highest salary our survey is $272,313, and it’s paid to Salt Lake City’s executive director of airports.
Cities explain salaries
Several municipalities explained how salaries are determined, and the formula goes beyond the size of a particular city. In fact, when comparing job titles, such as city manager, some less-populated cities pay higher wages.
This could be due to experience, responsibilities, or how much a city can afford to pay.
Sandy's director of communication, Nicole Martin, explained that a complex mix of data — including national and local wage comparisons, a city’s budget size, plus an employee’s background and experience — are some of the factors that determine a fair, yet competitive wage.
“What is their education level? What is the experience they bring to the job? How long have they been with the city? Are they, in fact, at the bottom or the top of their salary range? Does that salary include a benefits package?" Martin said. "All of those things need to be understood if you want to have an accurate picture of that particular salary."
She suggested cities should maintain competitive wages to retain qualified employees and cut down on turnover. In other words, municipalities should consider the expense of rehiring and training if salaries are set too low.
“You couldn't possibly get the professionals that you need if you weren't offering somewhere in the neighborhood of a competitive salary,” she said.
When you consider that 50 out of the 2,600 employees (make over that we have, I wouldn't say it is a lot of employees. When you look at the particular jobs that those individuals perform for the most part they are executives who are running the day-to-day operations of the city.
–David Salazar, SLC HR manager
In Sandy, 17 employees earn $110,000 a year or more. For example, the chief administrative officer earns $163,634; the city attorney earns $156,000; the public works and public utilities directors each make $140,192; and the parks and recreation director earns $124,966.
"We want to pay our employees what they're worth to do the job that the citizens want them to do," Martin said.
Martin says a number of Sandy City employees have chosen to spend most of their careers working for the city and their salaries are reflective of their years of service, experience and the requirements of the position they hold.
Salt Lake City Human Resources Manager David Salazar says he answers the salary question every day.
When the KSL Investigators asked about Salt Lake City director of airport’s salary, Salazar thought it was fair.
“When you consider what other airport executives make across the nation I would say no,” he said. "The market for an individual who has that skill set, the ability to run a fairly unique operation, those individuals are not easy to come by. So if she were to leave, the fact of the matter is we would need to be able to compete nationally in order to be able to attract somebody who has that same type of experience. "
When it comes to salaries and services, Salt Lake City is in a category of its own, and that’s because it’s a capital city with a population that almost doubles in size each workday.
Because of this, Salt Lake City must retain enough employees to handle services for its residents, plus the influx of people who work within Salt Lake City limits.
“Fifty employees are making $110,000 a year or more, 50 sounds like a lot, is it?” we asked.
Partial list of highest paid positions in SLC
|Director of public utilities||$163,603|
|Chief of police||$157,515|
|Executive director of city council offices||$150,581|
|Director of public services||$149,494|
|Justice court judge||$112,858|
“When you consider that 50 out of the 2,600 employees that we have, I wouldn’t say it is a lot of employees,” Salazar said. "When you look at the particular jobs that those individuals perform, for the most part they are executives who are running the day-to-day operations of the city."
Salazar said he spends an entire year — year after year — collecting national salary data from dozens of cities to compare how Salt Lake City measures up and determine where to set his city’s salaries.
A partial list of highest paid positions included the director of public utilities at $163,603; chief of police $157,515; executive director of city council offices $150,581; fire chief $147,604; director of public services $149,494; finance director $135,000; building official $115,360; and justice court judge $112,858.
In the case of the director of airports position, Salazar collects and reviews salary data from about 20 airports across the nation to make sure it’s within range of what other top airport executives earn.
“We have to have some sense of what dollar figure should we be consider to ensure that we’re not only able to attract but to retain someone who’s qualified to help manage that for the city," he said.
Competitive vs. elected government positions
Comparing salary for elected offices to other government positions, such as city managers or department directors, comes with its share of challenges.
For example, residency requirements prevent a governor or mayor from resigning their position to accept a higher paying position as governor or mayor somewhere else.
This is not the case for non-elected positions where an offer of a higher wage or better benefits package can cause government workers to seek employment elsewhere, creating a competitive salary environment.
Some experts suggest a pitfall of keeping salaries below a competitive wage for elected offices is this could narrow the field of potential candidates who can afford to hold the position.