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Committee open to doing away with per diems : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Committee open to doing away with per diems
County board members received $146,720 in salary, benefits last year alone

by Matt Schury


Kendall County Board members may soon no longer be able to claim per diem payments for attending future meetings.

Last week the County Board's Ad committee discussed changing the way board members receive compensation and most members of the committee said they were open to doing away with the $85 per diem payments and going to just a salary.

The County Board is expected to discuss per diems and other forms of compensation at their next committee of the whole meeting on March 13.

Compensations for County Board members include an $85 per diem for attending meetings, mileage reimbursement for travel inside and outside the county, a $2,400 annual salary, taxpayer funded health care and the ability to participate in the state's IMRF pension system. The county board chairman also receives a $12,000 salary and $1,188 for acting as the county's liquor commissioner.

Records from the treasurer's office provided to reporters at the board's Per diem Ad Hoc Committee last week indicate that last year board members received $146,720 in salary and benefits, including taxpayer funded health insurance for $50,000.

The committee talked about the advantages of just having a salary for board members but there were also downfalls to doing this, some members pointed out.

Amy Cesich, who chairs the ad hoc committee, said she was in favor of eliminating per diems and possibly increasing the board members' salaries.

She also said she might support eliminating the per diems for special committees but keeping the payments for the 11 committees that report directly to the board.

"What we could do is maybe increase our base salary to then throw out the compensation for those subcommittees," Cesich said.

Board member Matthew Prochaska said he would consider supporting salaries only for board members.

"I think going to a straight salary for board members would be the preferred option," Prochaska said. "I think per diems just necessitate more meetings. I think we could cut down on the number of committees if we had less per diems."

In light of the two year investigation and over $20,000 spent on an audit, Board member Scott Gryder called going to a just a salary a "no brainer."

Not having per diems would mean that board members were all paid the same regardless of how many meetings they attend. The committee was concerned that if some board members received more committee assignments they would be doing more work than others for the same amount of pay.

Gryder added that he has heard the argument that the per diems are an incentive to go to a meeting, which he said is the wrong attitude to have.

"I don't do this to get a per diem, I do this because I want to make our county better and I think all of you do," Gryder said.

He added that if a board member is only attending meetings to get paid they probably shouldn't be on the board in the first place.

"I would be appalled if someone said, 'Well, I'm not going to go to that meeting because I'm not going to get my $85 now.' They shouldn't be on the board, frankly, if that's how they feel," Gryder said.

Board member Lynn Cullick said she felt that the board should then streamline the committee system so things aren't as unbalanced.

Board member Judy Gilmour agreed.

"There are certainly ways that we could streamline this county and the way we do business," Gilmour added.

Cullick also pointed out that it says in the board rules that if they are not attending meetings regularly and have three unexcused absences or more they could be removed from a committee, she said.

"Maybe that is something that should be enforced and the chair should be removing a board member from a committee for lack of attendance," Cullick said.

The committee also discussed allowing board members to take the employee health insurance but making them pay for it themselves.

Gilmour mentioned that she would first like to settle the per diem payments before they start talking about other benefits.

"Let's tackle this first problem that this committee was create for," she said. "I would like firming up the per diem system we have in place now before another month goes by because people may be still doing it incorrectly."

Cullick said that even though the committee was called the per diem ad hoc committee they shouldn't get hung up on that. She added that she was willing to discuss anything and would talk about getting rid of health insurance for board members.

"I firmly believe that we will be right back in this same position unless we make some drastic changes to a very broken system," Cullick told the committee.

Gryder agreed with Cullick and Cesich that the committee and the board needs to look at the entire compensation package. He added that they need to factor in all compensation board members receive.

Gilmour went on to say that she supports changing the way board members get health insurance.

"I would take it (health insurance) off the table as a 100 percent paid benefit. I think that I would want to consider leaving it as an option for board member to have access to it and buy into it," she said.

Any changes in the compensation package for board members would require a two-thirds super majority approval by the 10 member County Board. Additionally, any changes would only affect newly seated board members. Five of the 10 current board members are up for re-election this year. The five who are elected or reelected this year would fall under a new system while the continuing board members would be unaffected by any change until the next election in 2016.

Paying board members should take mileage for attending meetings inside and outside the county may also change. Gilmour appeared to support having board members claim mileage only for travel outside of Kendall County.

"I think when you are going out of county I don't think it is unreasonable to ask to be compensated for wear and tear on your vehicle," Gilmour said.

Gryder, who works in Chicago, said the board would have to come up with firm rules.

"If you're coming to a meeting from work does that count? If you are leaving the county building and going to Springfield or somewhere-- that is what we have to discuss?" Gryder said.

Cullick agreed that board members traveling to meetings inside Kendall County should not get reimbursed for mileage.

The committee also discussed if board members should continue to participate in IMRF. However, having board members opt out of the IMRF system may be outside the board's purview. Kendall County Treasurer Jill Ferko said once someone opts into the retirement system they cannot be removed.

"Everyone has the option as an elected official," she said. "They can choose not to take it. The elected official has to opt not to take it, otherwise they are in it."

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