Colorado

Feb 25, 2014 2:08 AM by Zach Thaxton

Co. Springs Utilities CEO could get huge payday Tuesday

Jerry Forte, the Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Springs Utilities, could be approved Tuesday for a pay increase that represents more than half of his current compensation.  Colorado Springs City Council will vote Tuesday afternoon whether to approve a nearly $171,000 compensation increase for Forte.  Forte hasn't received a pay increase in seven years, according to Melisa Kellione, general manager for human resources for Colorado Springs Utilities, and has been earning a compensation "46 percent below the cash-compensation market" for CEOs of similarly-sized utilities across the country, Kellione said.

A nationwide survey sought input from 95 similarly-sized utilities organizations and of those, 42 replied, Kellione said.  The results showed that Forte's salary and compensation package of $336,252 paled in comparison to the median compensation rate of $622,071.  Forte's compensation ranks in the bottom third nationwide among CEOs of similarly-sized utiltities, Kellione said.

City Councilmember Jan Martin is proposing an overall compensation increase to $498,575 annually for Forte, still 20 percent less than the median rate.  "We believe that an additional $170,000 a year for two years is the cost of trying to maintain continuity," Martin said.  Forte is currently eligible for retirement, Martin said, and losing him along with the utility's energy and water executives, also up for retirement, would put CSU in a vulnerable situation at a time when they are dealing with major projects including the future of the Drake Power Plant and continued construction and eventual completion of the Southern Delivery System.  To that end, Martin is proposing $25,000 per year for Forte as incentive for him to remain on the job for at least the next two years rather than retire.  "$25,000 a year for two years is just an acknowledgement of the importance that he stay here with us," Martin said.

Convincing ratepayers that Forte is deserving of such a large pay increase will be difficult, but not necessary.  City Council has sole discretion over the hiring, firing, and compensation for the Colorado Springs Utilities CEO.  "We know it is difficult for the public to understand how we could even consider a considerable raise of this size for the CEO of Utilities," Martin acknowledged.  John Sledgianowski of Colorado Springs is among those who doesn't understand.  "I think it's excessive considering that this is a public position and they should consider the impact it's going to make on the community," Sledgianowski said, "especially on people who are struggling with utilities and the Utilities having to raise rates recently."

Colorado Springs City Council will vote on the proposed pay hike during its formal meeting Tuesday afternoon.

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