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Huge raise touted for Utilities chief



A compensation study says Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte (pictured) should get an 85 percent raise, to $622,000 a year.

The Utilities Personnel Committee, composed of three City Council members, isn't going that far. Still, the committee has recommended Council bump Forte's pay by 48 percent — to a total of $498,000 annually.

The hike would take effect next month. Council was to vote on the issue Tuesday afternoon, after the Independent went to press.

Such a large raise is sure to stir criticism from ratepayers, who have seen water rates go up 12 percent per year for several years and soon will see hikes in gas and electric costs that will raise the typical residential customer's bill this year by $3 a month.

The Personnel Committee, composed of Jan Martin, Merv Bennett and Don Knight, cites a study by Milliman consulting firm of Seattle that shows Forte's compensation of $276,750 base pay and $58,000 in incentive pay is 45 percent below the market's 50th percentile.

Forte's raise would lift his base pay to $447,175 and add $26,400 a year to fund his post-retirement health insurance, and another $25,000 a year for two years to assure he stays that long.

"I think the community is really at risk of losing the top executives through retirement," Martin, who chairs the personnel committee, says in an interview. "It's important to keep our CEO here for two years as we transition through leadership."

Energy officer Bruce McCormick retires next month, and water officer Gary Bostrom is in his 35th year with the city and is eligible to retire, as is Forte.

Martin says Utilities is ranked among the top 10 utilities in the nation for reliability, reasonable rates and customer service. "That comes with good leadership," she says. "Organizations don't reach that level of stature without good leadership." She also notes that she believes government should be run as a business, and that to do that, the CEO's pay should be raised.

Councilor Andy Pico, who was endorsed for his 2013 Council bid by Utilities employees, supports the raise. "It is clear from the study that we are significantly below the market in executive compensation," he says via email.

No Council members commented on the proposed raise during a briefing at Monday's Council work session.

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