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Spirited debate on county board compensation : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Spirited debate on county board compensation
Some favor doing away with per diems, other benefits; others opposed

by Matt Schury


Kendall County Board members seemed to agree Tuesday night that something needs to change with the way they collect compensation for serving on the board.

The degree to which their compensation package for their part-time positions should change was the subject of a long and spirited debate that was ultimately sent to their committee of the whole meeting next Thursday, April 10 for further discussion.

The two most vocal board members on the subject, John Purcell and Amy Cesich, were on opposite sides of the debate on those changes.

Cesich, who chairs the county's Per Diem Ad Hoc Committee, says she believes the board members' per diem's payments should be eliminated along with mileage reimbursement for in-county travel. She also said she thinks board members should foot the cost for health and dental insurance. In place of those things, Cesich says the board members should be put on a monthly salary.

Purcell, on the other hand, threw out some of his own ideas "in the spirit of cooperation" Tuesday. He said that he could agree to doing away with those perks and benefits if the board agreed to raise their salary to $18,500 a year for board members and $20,000 a year for the county board chairman. He also proposed a stipend of $1,500 for the Forest Preserve District Board president. Later in the meeting Purcell suggested that the system of compensation remain the same and the board tweak the way per diems payment are collected for attending meetings.

The board didn't come to a consensus or take a vote on either Purcell's proposal or what the Per Diem Ad Hoc Committee agreed to last week.

While the board has discussed their compensation policy in the past, this week was the first time the full board looked at specific proposals forwarded from the Per diem Adhoc Committee. The board considered several types of payment- per diems, salaries, mileage and health insurance.

The options were not included on the board's agenda for a vote Tuesday night.

One option would have had them doing away with per diems, but keeping mileage reimbursement for both in-county and out-of-county travel as well as having health and dental insurance benefits paid for by taxpayers, as well as increasing their salaries.

Another option would have had them doing away with per diem payments, moving to a salary reimbursement system but keeping mileage for in-county travel and making board members pay for their own employee health insurance.

A third option would have had them adopting a salary, getting rid of per diems, doing away with in-county mileage and making board members pay for health insurance.

The board discussed six different salary amounts and two different dates when the changes would begin. Each of the options came with a proposed salary increase from the current $2,400 to amounts ranging from $8,000 to $18,000.

In addition to their $2,400 salary members are allowed to collect an $85 per diem for attending meetings.

When the change would take effect matters. If the County Board decided to proceed with changes to begin in 2014 it would mean board members would be on two different systems of compensation, because members can't set a change to their present salary. That is, those whose terms do not expire this year and who will not begin new terms after the November election, would be paid at current rates, while those elected or re-elected in the fall would be paid at the new rate. Some County Board members have spoken out against that two-tiered system.

Purcell has warned the board he would vote against any proposal that creates two compensation systems- even if it was temporary. He has said that he doesn't see a "bifurcated system" of compensation as fair. The board has until June 1 to change the compensation for the five board seats that are up for election in November. Cesich has said this puts the board under a bit of a time crunch and she doesn't want to see further delays; lest the board miss the deadline.

Board member Jeff Wehrli, who takes the county's health insurance family plan, wondered aloud if the health insurance should be changed at all. He said that he would need more information on what the committee was proposing before he could vote. Wehrli said he felt confident the board will reach some compromise and that he felt the board was "getting there" on an agreement.

The discussion of changing the compensation system was kicked off in the wake of an almost two year forensic audit of board members' per diems that is set to soon wrap up. The per diem ad hoc committee was formed in December and was charged with settling what board members owed in per diems which the audit found to be taken in error. Demand letters for the repayment of those amounts are currently being drafted but as of press time have not yet been sent to board members.

Board members who are expected to receive those letters including current board members Dan Koukol, Elizabeth Flowers, Purcell, Wehrli and Chairman John Shaw. Former board members that will be asked to reimburse the county include Anne Vickery, Bob Davidson, Pan Parr, Jessie Hafenritcher and Suzanne Petrella. The amount those board members collectively owe the county could be as high as $50,000, State's Attorney Eric Weis has said.

It was discovered late last year that a Kendall County Grand Jury was investigating the matter and that Sheriff's Police had interviewed County Board members about the way they collected per diems. Weis has not yet said if he will file criminal charges against those board members who were found to have taken per diem payments in error.

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