Will County Board Members Under the Gun to Consider Salaries

Will County Board Graphic

By Nick Reiher

Under a June 5 deadline to determine salaries for county officials up for election in November, Will County Board members met May 22 to discuss the issue.

There was to be no action. Board Chair Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, wanted to get a sense of what board members felt on the issue.

She may as well have used minutes from discussions past. Some of the names have changed, but the sentiments haven’t.

Most Will County Board members receive $23,000 a year. Leadership receives an additional $1,000 a year. Those salaries were approved in 2009, with an increasing scale beginning annually in 2010.

The board has discussed slight increases since then, ultimately rejecting them, concerned about the effect on taxpayers, and if public service warrants an increase in annual salaries.

Board Member Julie Berkowicz, R-Naperville, said she had met with a group of veterans that morning, and all said they were having difficulty paying increasing property taxes.

“When I ran, I understood the salary and obligations,” she said.

Board Member Dan Butler, R-Frankfort, said he thought one reason for reducing the number of County Board districts two years ago from 13 to 11, was to reduce the cost of salaries.

Ogalla had asked Board Member Vince Logan, R-Joliet, to study the current salary and the number of meetings they attend.

He said there was one board member who attended only one meeting a month. Some attend only several.

“I don’t see the need for a salary increase,” he said.

Board Member Sherry Williams, D-Crest Hill, wondered, then, if there ever will be another salary increase for County Board members.

“I don’t know how they came up with $23,000,” she said, adding that serving on the County Board means more than attending meetings, it’s about serving constituents in the district.

Board Members also serve as Will County Forest Preserve District commissioners. All commissioners are paid once per month, only for the meetings they attend at $36 each per day. Two or more meetings on one day would be $36 total.

Officers of the district board are paid monthly, regardless of attending any meetings: Board President, $208.33; Vice-President, $125; Board Secretary, $125; and Treasurer, $125.

In the past when discussing salaries, County Board members have brought up whether their jobs are considered part-time, leading some to say it can be more than full-time. That can make it difficult for some to have a full-time job during the day, since all meetings are in the morning or early afternoon.

The board members at the May 21 meeting also discussed the possibility of instead implementing cost-of-living increases, which this year would amount to about 3 percent.

Board Member Jim Richmond, R-Mokena, chair of the board’s Finance Committee, said he doesn’t believe it’s a good time to spend more money. He still was upset about the higher tax levy Democrats on the board pushed through for the current year budget, even though it resulted in a drop of a few cents in the county’s property tax rate.

Any changes in salary would affect only County Board district 6, 7 and 10, the only ones up for election in November, and would not be effective until the new term begins in December.

Likewise, any changes in salaries for countywide offices would affect only County Executive, Auditor, Circuit Clerk, Recorder of Deeds and Coroner. The State’s Attorney also is up for election, but that salary is set by the state.

Unable to attend the May 21 meeting, Treasurer Tim Brophy, who is not up for election in November, shared a release noting countywide elected officers receive $93,116 annually, which has not changed since 2008.

In his conclusion, he wrote:

“A market-based positive adjustment (and future continued adjustments) to countywide elected compensation appears to be reasonable, intellectually supported, and overdue.

“Inflation data support the reality that a dollar in 2005 is worth less than 42 cents today. Skyrocketing inflation counters the argument that ‘you knew the pay rate when you ran.’

“Data from your colleagues in similar counties support this conclusion through their past and continuing compensation adjustments. Best practices and scholarly research support this conclusion.

“We don’t want to fall farther behind. Lastly, a reinspection of our oath, concerning the value of statutory assignments, seems to support this conclusion — AND the future recruitment of continued high-caliber talent.”

Board members appeared to be more receptive to either small, incremental increases, or possibly cost-of-living increases for the countywide elected officers.

Either way, Ogalla asked the board members present to think it over, but be ready to discuss a plan with one voice when a special meeting is called before June 5.

“I don’t want to hear any emotion on the floor,” she said.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

 

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