Naperville City Council members aren’t looking for a raise, but most aren’t ready to give up their access to a modest retirement benefit after ending their time in public service, either.
A council workshop this week almost found consensus on the questions of their salary rates and the future of their pension benefits. Only Grant Wehrli — the youngest councilman now in office, one of his peers noted — opposes the continuation of the retirement perk.
Presenting a set of calculations he worked up on the basis of his own tenure, Wehrli, 44, said when he becomes vested in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund next month, he will be eligible for a $125 monthly payment. Because he entered the pension system before a new tier system was enacted that lowers the benefit for recent hires, Wehrli said he will eventually qualify to receive $40,500 for his part-time elected position.
“That’s just nuts,” he said.
Emphasizing that his position on the issue has nothing to do with his candidacy for state office in next year’s election, Wehrli said he doesn’t believe pensions should be offered to officials in the council’s capacity. The pension benefit, which is unrelated to the nearly $100 billion unfunded balance in the state’s public pension systems, requires council members to work at least 1,000 hours annually.
Because they don’t punch a clock, most of the council members favor the staff suggestion that they document the hours they put into the job via signed affidavits. Councilman Dave Wentz said he would like the sworn statements to be filed monthly, to provide a clearer picture of the time being put in by the board. City Manager Doug Krieger likes the concept, although he expressed possible qualms over the logistics of monthly affidavits.
“Certainly you want to prove it out, but I don’t want it to be administratively burdensome,” Krieger said.
On the matter of salaries, the council members all indicated they have no problem with their current pay of approximately $12,000 yearly, even though office holders in corresponding positions in Aurora and Joliet are paid more than 50 percent more than they are. The Naperville council members’ salary rates vary slightly because some have served longer than others, and some have declined the annual cost-of-living increases built into their pay system.
The $1,500 allocated each year for the council members’ cell phones, Internet service and conferences and other training events also came up. The group liked Councilman Joe McElroy’s suggestion that they streamline that portion of their pay by eliminating the stipends and adding $1,000 to their regular pay to help cover phone and Internet expenses, meaning it will now be taxed as income. The $300 allowance for conferences and training will remain separate; McElroy said he thinks encouraging officials to avail themselves of professional development opportunities helps encourage better governance.
Council member Steve Chirico wanted to know if there is a way to equalize the health insurance benefit, since those who don’t take advantage of the available benefit wind up costing the city much less. Although they are among few part-time city employees who are eligible for health coverage, the rest of the council members didn’t see a need to change the accounting for the benefit.
“Whether you take it or not, it’s your choice,” council member Paul Hinterlong said.
The council, which will examine compensation for the mayor’s position at another upcoming meeting, took a straw poll that found agreement on largely maintaining the status quo, with the minor adjustments to take effect after the next council election in 2015. Only Wehrli dissented, on the basis of the pension issue.
“To me, it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not a lot of money.”