DENVER - A bill to raise the salaries of future Montezuma County officials sailed through its first hearing Tuesday.
The bill - House Bill 1203 by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez - now goes to the full House, after approval by the House Local Government Committee on an 11-0 vote.
No one testified for or against the bill Tuesday, and representatives had only a few questions for Tipton. Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton, wanted to know if the county could afford the increase.
Tipton said he asked the same question.
"County commissioners inform me that Montezuma County is in excellent financial shape and can afford the increase," Tipton said.
Tipton said it's a touchy bill, given the economic climate, but he is carrying it at the request of the county commissioners. If the bill passes, it would raise salaries for all elected officials after the next election.
The increased pay for the three commissioners, clerk, sheriff, assessor, coroner, treasurer and surveyor would cost the county an extra $74,300 a year, according to an analysis by the Legislature's staff.
Tipton said he's uncomfortable carrying the bill because he thinks county commissioners should set salaries on their own county. However, Colorado law gives the power to the state Legislature.
The Legislature also sets the schedule of fees counties can charge. HB 1203 bumps Montezuma up one class for fees, as well.
Tipton wants to change the situation. Although the deadline to introduce bills this year has passed, he asked permission to introduce one late, but he didn't get it.
Next year, though, he plans to run a bill that would turn salary and fee decisions over to the counties.
"I'm just not comfortable as a state legislator telling people in Las Animas County" what to pay their officials, Tipton said.
Montezuma County is currently a Class 4 county, along with counties like Lake, Ouray and Rio Grande. HB 1203 would bump the county up to Class 3, which includes Archuleta, Montrose and San Miguel. La Plata County pays Class 2 salaries.
Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, will be the sponsor if the bill makes it to the Senate.