Naperville City Council members don’t entirely agree on whether they should continue receiving taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for their part-time positions. They’ll work to iron out their differences when they meet Tuesday evening.
Councilman Paul Hinterlong brought up the matter at the group’s last meeting on April 1, suggesting that the option be discontinued after next spring’s municipal elections, in which all eight council positions and the mayor’s post will be put before the voters.
Hinterlong reminded his council peers that they concurred recently that because a majority of them do not work the required 1,000-hour yearly minimum for pension eligibility through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, the retirement perk should no longer come with the position.
“Given that, and also the fact that our own staff has to work 30 or more hours to get the benefits that we do, as far as health care, I don’t think it’s fair,” Hinterlong said.
Health insurance coverage for the mayor’s position was established in 1983 and the City Council became eligible for the benefit in 1986.
According to City Manager Doug Krieger, eliminating health and dental insurance for the council would save the city up to $135,000 annually. The elected officials pay 20 percent of the premium, as do full-time city employees. All of the council members have health coverage provided by the city with the exception of Hinterlong and Councilmen Bob Fieseler and Grant Wehrli.
Council member Steve Chirico said he would prefer an “all-in” compensation rate for the council position, without a separate benefit for health care. The council recently agreed to eliminate the $1,500 they had been receiving for cell phone and Internet expenses when they adjusted their own salary upward slightly to about $13,000 annually.
“Wrapping it all into a salary that is commensurate with whatever number is decided on, I think, would be in the best interests of the community,” Chirico said, adding that he doesn’t oppose doing away with the coverage, or having the expense “chargeable” to council members to help cover more of the premium. “I think it’s a great benefit to have. It certainly makes this position, for quite a number of people, a position that they’re able to afford to have. But at the same time it is conflicting with the part-time status of this position … part-time employees do not get health benefits, so there is a conflict there.”
Longtime council member Doug Krause argued for keeping the benefit in place, suggesting that the cost be looked at when it is divided by the number of residents in Naperville.
“It works out to be 18 cents a resident a year,” Krause said. “I think they’re getting very good value for their money, when you look at the bottom line.”
Fieseler, who called the subject of council compensation “a millstone around our necks,” said the health insurance benefit does have advantages, but it can be difficult for officials to discuss.
“Some council, years ago, gave themselves benefits, and I’m convinced they did it under cover of night,” Fieseler said, relating that when he went to a council workshop early in his tenure, the salary and benefits page in the board packet was missing. “Everybody kind of looked sheepish when I asked for it, and the only thing I could figure is that we just didn’t want people to know.
“I am less concerned about whether it’s provided than whether we tell people that we’re compensated. The council … has to answer to the voters.”
He agreed that the coverage option may have the effect of encouraging some council members to remain in office who might otherwise consider stepping down.
“I think from a public policy viewpoint that could be healthy, because in an at-large system that we have, incumbency is very, very valuable,” Fieseler said.