April 8, 2014 Updated: April 9, 2014 at 8:22 am
Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte was awarded a $100,000 pay raise Tuesday that will be phased in over the next three years.
The City Council split in a 5-4 vote to increase Forte's base salary by $30,600 in 2014, $34,900 in 2015 and $34,900 in 2016.
In 2013, Forte's total compensation - base salary and performance incentives - was $346,906. The pay raises will be added to that figure, and by 2016, Forte's base salary will be $447,175.
Council member Jan Martin said Forte's current base salary of $276,750 was 38 percent below the market median of CEOs who run utilities of similar size and scope. She said the move to pump up the CEO salary was not about Forte but about keeping Utilities competitive now and in the future when recruiting top-level executives.
Martin said it was a Utilities board goal to keep employee salaries at the 50th percentile of the market.
Not all council members agreed with the raise. Council members Helen Collins, Keith King, Joel Miller and Val Snider voted against the boost.
Tuesday's vote comes nearly two months after the council rejected a $171,000 pay raise for Forte. Some council members said in February the proposed raise was too much to give all at once.
Martin said the new proposal was a compromise: It's not as much as the original proposal, it phases in the raise and it eliminates $60,000 a year in performance incentives.
"We listened to customers who were not comfortable with the size of the original proposed pay adjustment," Martin said.
In March, the Utilities board said Forte's 2013 performance "exceeded expectations." On a scale of 1 to 5, Forte earned a 4.02, similar to the grade he has earned in years past. Forte still will receive the incentive pay for his 2013 performance, which could be about $70,000.
Forte could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
A study of the salaries of 42 CEOs at other utilities operations throughout the nation showed Forte's total compensation - base salary and incentive package - was 45 percent below the market's median.
If Forte retired now, it could cost as much as $600,000 a year to hire a new CEO based on the market, Martin said.
But Collins said the CEO salary should be compared to other CEOs in Colorado Springs and not CEOs from other cities.
"That is a heck of a salary for Colorado Springs," she said. "We've increased city salaries, and Colorado Springs Utilities employee salaries. We continue to increase salaries but we have issues like stormwater, Drake and potholes. We need to look at operations in the city and quit giving increases."