Virgin leaders are handing out unreasonable raises former city officials handed themselves

Instead of recovering the $78,060 in overpayments, the city will make them retroactive.

(Orsen via Wikimedia Commons) A historic building in Virgin, near Zion National Park.

Elected officials at Virgin have decided forgiveness is the way to go to deal with the unreasonable raises that former Mayor Matt Spendlove and City Council members have handed themselves.

Rather than recover the $78,060 in overpayments that previous elected officials gave themselves and the city planning commissioners between fiscal years 2018 and 2022, Mayor Jean Krause and council members voted 4-1 on Tuesday to award the illegal raises and approve them retroactively do.

Council member Paul Luwe was the only dissenter.

State law requires cities to make an announcement at least seven days before a public hearing to increase pay increases and enact increases by passing an ordinance. Former Virgin officials did neither.

Mayoral salaries shot up from $400 to $1,000 a month during the period in question, a 150% increase. Council members increased their monthly salary by 250% from $100 to $350. They also more than tripled the salary of the planning commission chairman from $85 to $325. Commission payments for others increased from $60 to $250.

Speaking to The Tribune last month, the mayor called the pay rises “small potatoes,” while council member Gene Garate, who has been on the council for three years and voted to approve some of the raises, said paying back the money “would tear the city apart.”

Neither Krause, Garate nor other council members who voted for forgiveness at Tuesday’s meeting would respond to calls for comment.

For his part, Luwe said his vote came after weeks of hesitation between voting for forgiveness or collecting the overpayments.

On one side of the ledger, he noted, was the fact that the legal costs of recovering the illegal raises would likely be equal to or greater than the amount of money the city could recover. He also feared that taking legal action to recover the money could discourage residents from running for municipal office. Conversely, Lowe feared that forgiveness would amount to a lack of accountability on the part of elected officials.

Luwe said he decided against forgiveness after recently attending a truth-in-taxation hearing as a member of the Hurricane Valley Fire Special Services District and watching local residents speak out against a proposed property tax increase. This prompted the district board to vote against the tax increase. He said it made him reflect that Virgin residents didn’t have that opportunity before their city’s pay rises were granted.

“When I ran for city council, I ran on a platform of transparency,” said Luwe, a former city attorney for Bozeman, Montana. “As I told the Council [Tuesday night]State law for pay increases requires that they be approved by ordinance and made public.”

“So it’s not just about that [city officials] not performing a sacred ordinance,” Luwe added. “Fails to issue an ordinance to notify the public so they have an opportunity to provide them with comments. The reason I think state officials are asking for this is because they know that citizens should … have a say in how their elected officials are paid.”

Virgin resident Darlene Pope isn’t arguing about elected officials making more money. She thinks they deserve it. However, Pope questions how they went about it.

“It just feels wrong,” she said of the council’s vote. “I can understand why they did that. At some point you have to move on. But there doesn’t seem to be any accountability.”

Luwe noticed the illegal increases shortly after taking office in January and brought them to the attention of city officials. After weeks of “sleepless nights” and with the Council’s vote this week, he says the issue has finally “been dealt with”.

“For the future,” he added, “it is important that a proposed salary increase is properly perceived and that citizens have the opportunity to give us their opinion.”

https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2023/01/19/virgin-leaders-forgive-improper/ Virgin leaders are handing out unreasonable raises former city officials handed themselves

Justin Scacco

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