Naperville City Council bows out of pension plan

<p>File Photo</p>

File Photo

Naperville’s City Council members might be looking to revise their retirement portfolios after agreeing to take their public pension plan out of the mix — but probably not.

The group agreed this week to stop taking part in the statewide public pension system that rewards vested office holders, after a recent audit suggested they may not qualify. The decision overturned a straw poll several months ago that found most of the council members wanted to keep the modest benefit.

The council briefly considered postponing a vote on the matter, with members Bob Fieseler and Judith Brodhead absent from Tuesday night’s meeting, but several others said they had spoken to the pair and garnered their approval for rescinding their membership in the program.

“I think that the best thing for the city at this point is to put a stake in the heart of this issue so we can move on with the rest of running the city,” Councilman Joe McElroy said.

Representatives of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund performed the audit Feb. 10 and reported that the workload associated with pension eligibility apparently falls short for most of the eight council members. The program requires participants to submit paperwork stating that they put in at least 1,000 hours yearly, and fewer than half of the council members did that.

Eligible elected officials qualify to draw monthly pension checks from the state fund after they have held office for at least eight years.

Council members earn about $13,000 annually, after deciding last year to fold previously separate stipends for phone and Internet expenses into their base pay. The move added $1,000 to their salaries, which remain less than two-thirds the pay given to their counterparts in Aurora and Joliet. The city’s current $418 million operating budget shows $393,838 for council compensation, of which $247,733 goes to salaries for officials and staff, and $12,253 to IMRF for the council.

Until now, council members have been among few part-time city employees provided with pension and health insurance benefits. Councilmen Paul Hinterlong, Grant Wehrli and Fieseler do not receive health care coverage through the city, but the rest of the council and Mayor A. George Pradel — who works substantially more hours than his council peers — do. And all of the council has been in IMRF.

Wehrli, the council’s youngest member, was the sole dissenting vote when a poll during a council workshop in October found the rest of the board favored keeping the pension program in place.

“To me, it’s just the right thing to do,” Wehrli said at the time. “At the end of the day, it’s not a lot of money.”

McElroy underlined that point, referring to his most recent benefits statement in an effort to provide “a little bit of clarity” to the discussion.

According to the document, McElroy will be eligible to begin receiving $156 monthly checks in May 2019, eight years after he joined the council. The benefit comes to $1,872 annually.

“That’s a real-life example,” he said. “And if anybody want to compare that with pensions that are offered in other public sector jobs, they can be my guest.”