County board might be ready to end pension perk
By James Fuller
Kane County Board members on a special task force will begin the process Thursday of weeding through more than 40 applicants vying to represent the county on Metra’s board of directors. Task force members will ask applicants if they’d be willing to forego the pension and health insurance benefits that come with the appointment. Applicants who agree will receive preference.
But a list of the benefits Kane County Board members receive shows the board has yet to answer that question for themselves. All but three members of the 26-seat board accept optional pension and health insurance benefits along with the $24,000 salary.
With more attention being paid to such perks, some board members believe the time is right to talk about doing away with such benefits.
County board and Metra task force member Mike Donahue said his problem with health insurance and pensions for either Metra or county board members is the part-time nature of the job. Donahue said the average board member puts in only 10 hours per week. Because of that, Donahue is one of the three county board members who’ve opted out of the perks.
“I don’t think I should be taking benefits from what’s essentially a less than part-time situation,” Donahue said. “It is something that people should be getting from their primary source of employment. I have my own health care. I know other county board members have different personal situations. I’m not judging them. For some, they take it because they have no other way to get it.”
But perks are not a reason any elected official, or political appointee, should seek a government job, Donahue said.
Fellow board member Drew Frasz is also on the Metra task force and accepts the pension and health insurance from the county. Frasz said it would be hypocritical of him to ask Metra board candidates not to take benefits similar to those he accepts. Frasz owns a landscaping business. He said he didn’t know the county board position came with health insurance, but he’s glad it did.
“The housing industry and my business is substantially down the last four years,” Frasz said. “The insurance was a nice thing to get, and I wasn’t going to turn it down. A lot of us on the board look at the health insurance as part of the compensation package.”
That insurance can be a significant part of the compensation package, board member Jim Mitchell said. Mitchell is another county board member who doesn’t take any of the optional benefits. He said the health insurance perk can add up to $2,000 monthly in what would otherwise be out-of-pocket health insurance costs.
“Some board members are basically doubling their salaries,” Mitchell said.
While health insurance might be a benefit that’d be difficult for some county board members to decline, the scrutiny government pensions have taken the past few years could pave a political path for the end of that county board perk.
Melisa Taylor is the third county board member who’s opted out of the optional perks. She said the pension was easy to forgo because it doesn’t amount to much when you’re being paid $24,000 a year.
“I didn’t run for the benefits or the pension or the dollar,” Taylor said. “But on a county level, the pension for elected officials really amounts to people fighting over pennies,” she said. “There are bigger fish to fry than that.”
The pension fish may already be in the pan. Taylor, Mitchell, Frasz and Donahue all said they’d vote to permanently drop the pension as an optional benefit if the majority of their colleagues agreed.
Frasz said that may be a tough vote for the most senior members of the board. He suggested dropping the pension for all board members with five years or less of service, which would include himself.
“It means nothing to me,” Frasz said. “It’s not a game-changer as far as your lifestyle. It might be a good show of leadership if we forego the pension.”
County board and Metra task force members Cathy Hurlbut and Jesse Vazquez did not immediately respond to interview requests.