Mesa County Attorney Patrick Coleman became the county’s highest paid employee Monday, receiving a 15.6% pay raise and earning him an annual salary greater than that of the county administrator.

That raise is on top of the 14% pay increase Coleman received last year, bringing his then $140,000 annual salary to $185,000. It comes at a time when some, but not all, rank-and-file county workers are to receive a 2% pay increase next year, their first in five years.

By comparison, County Administrator Pete Baier is being paid the same $180,000 salary that his predecessor, Frank Whidden, was making when he abruptly resigned in August. Last year, Baier received a 16% pay hike when he was director of the county’s Public Works Department, duties he still is responsible for along with the top county job.

Pay for Baier and Mesa County Human Services Executive Director Tracey Garchar, who received a 21% pay increase last year, is to remain the same in 2020. Garchar makes $151,000 a year.

In its unanimous support of Coleman’s pay increase, the Mesa County Board of Commissioners praised him for his work and that of his 16-person staff.

“Looking at the other (county) attorneys in the state, I think this is a proper adjustment to Mr. Coleman’s wages,” said Commissioner John Justman.

“I think the city just went to ($192,836) for their attorney,” Commissioner Scott McInnis added, referring to Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver. “Our operations are much more diverse than theirs, and they pay their attorney more than we do ours. I think in whatever angle we look at, this compensation is justified.”

Last week, the City Council gave Shaver and City Manager Greg Caton 7% pay increases, bringing Caton’s pay to $223,891 a year. Like Coleman, both men also received substantial pay hikes in 2018, 12.5% for Shaver and 16% for Caton.

The last time commissioners saw a pay increase was in 2016, when they approved a 20% pay raise for themselves and other elected county officials, one that was authorized by the Colorado Legislature but not mandated.

Under that authorization, commissioners’ pay now automatically increases by about 6% after every four-year election. Currently, Justman and Commissioner Rose Pugliese make $87,300 a year, while McInnis earns $92,681. That pay will be increased again to $96,856 after next year’s elections for whomever replaces Justman and Pugliese, who are term limited and barred from running again.

The 2% pay hike for county workers, meanwhile, is to be based on job performance, meaning that not all workers will necessarily receive it. At the same time, those workers will see an increase in their health insurance premiums, from $36 a month to $40 for individual plans, and $272 to $300 a month for family plans.