It Pays Big to be $outh $alt Lake's Mayor
Updated: Apr 22, 2022
Just two months after being sworn in to her fourth term as mayor, South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood received a hefty raise—her annual compensation went from $81,644 annually to $136,224. That’s a 67% raise, and those figures don’t include benefits and pension funds she will receive. This large salary is for the Mayor in a city of ~26,000 with an median household income of $49,616!
How did this happen? In February 2022, the South Salt City Council (video timestamp 1:03 in link) voted to dissolve an oversight committee which was formed specifically to weigh in on the salaries of city officials. The same ordinance that was overturned, restricted raises to the year prior to the beginning of a term to prevent such conflicts of interest. The very next council meeting, with the oversight committee out of the way, the City Council passed a new ordinance that gave themselves a 52% raise in addition to the Mayor’s 67%. City Council members went from receiving $11,400 annually to $17,400! The policymakers discreetly posting notifications of public hearings, but made no effort to bring the public along to ensure there was buy-in from their constituents. This was evident when no single South Salt Lake resident weighed in on the matter. When the raises become policy and word spread, people's reactions were "of course they did, they're corrupt." The raises were set to be retroactive to the beginning of 2022 which is not common practice.
Much of this effort within the City Council was led by Council Chairwoman Sharla Bynum, who called the raises necessary cost-of-living adjustments. Such comments are a slap-in-the-face for thousands of South Salt Lake residents who are unlikely to receive increased wages at all in the current economic environment, let alone to the tune of 67%. Claiming that this is a necessary salary adjustment to react to inflation is not just laughable—it’s offensive. Chairwoman Bynum has received considerable campaign contributions from the Mayor Cherie Wood in recent years.
South Salt Lake's taxpayers are already paying the highest municipal taxes in the entire state of Utah. According to a report by the Utah Taxpayers Association report for 2021: for every $1,000 of citizen income, the City receives $51.95—more than any other city in the state and more than double the state average. This demonstrates South Salt Lake City officials’ poor understanding of the impacts their fiscal policies, and their disregard for citizens during official policymaking. Consider, for example, that a new Stormwater Utility Fee was implemented in the same meeting that the excessive raises were, further increasing the financial burden the City has on taxpayers.
We understand that our civil servants should be paid fairly, but these raises, and more importantly, how they came to be are undeniably inappropriate. It’s time to remind Mayor Wood and the City Council who is footing the bill for their paychecks.
Just days after these ordinances were passed, citizens in South Salt Lake began to organize to bring oversight, equity, and transparency back to the people. Several citizens sponsored a referendum application, which would effectively freeze the raise-giving ordinance until the question can be posed to voters on this November’s ballot. The South Salt Lake City Attorney rejected the referendum application on a technicality of the number of referendums must (video timestamp 2:20 in link) be applied for to, which is in question . The citizens have now brought the referendum to the Utah Supreme Court. The fight continues to halt these senseless raises that our city officials have self-served themselves.
Stand Up for South Salt Lake
With a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the people of South Salt Lake, we will have 40 days to collect about 2200 signatures to have this question included on the ballot. We have organized a political action committee to serve as the vehicle for effectively uniting in this movement of accountability. It’s called Promising Oversight, Equity, and Transparency, which you’ll often see abbreviated as POET. As our momentum with this referendum and other important grassroots activity continues, we invite you stand up for South Salt Lake and join us and support the cause.
By the numbers:
With standard 3% cost-of-living raises, $81,644 in 2011, would be $113,014.39 in 2022.
At $136,224, and a population of ~26,000 the South Salt Lake Mayor is now paid 5x the compensation as the Mayor of Sandy.
With ~26,000 residents, South Salt Lake is smaller than any district in Salt Lake City, however South Salt Lake's Mayor now makes only 11% less than the Mayor of Salt Lake City.
In the News:
KSL NEWS RADIO: South Salt Lake resident wants to stop mayor and City Council from awarding themselves raises
KSL NEWS RADIO: Mayor Wood Defends her $130,000 Salary
KSL: Residents seek referendum after South Salt Lake Council changes rule to raise its pay
KSL: Residents seeking referendum over South Salt Lake leader pay petition Utah Supreme Court
Salt Lake Tribune: Elected leaders in this Utah city gave them selves a raise. How residents hope to stop them. They are asking the Utah Supreme Court to let voters weigh in.