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updated: 4/13/2011 7:43 PM

Naperville Twp. beats voters to perks decision

Naperville Township decides to end health care perk for commissioners ahead of voters

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Naperville Township voters will not be deciding the future of health care coverage and pension payments of their full-time elected officials and part-time trustees -- but only because the township trustees say they beat them to the punch.

The discussion dominated Tuesday night's annual township meeting held at the township's highway department garage at 31W331 North Aurora Road.

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Republican precinct committeeman Kurt Dorr kicked off the discussion by proposing an advisory referendum in November to ask taxpayers whether they should pay any health care and retirement benefits to township trustees.

"I've discovered from approximately 2006 to 2010, four of the trustees had taken $200,000 in health care and (Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund) benefits," Dorr said. "I felt that was unnecessary and excessive. I also found several trustees were up to six months late in paying their premiums, which, again, I found rather questionable."

But the conversation didn't proceed much further as Naperville Township Republican Organization Chairwoman Rachel Ossyra immediately motioned to table, or immediately end, the discussion. She said there was no need to discuss the motion further because the township trustees unanimously voted April 5 to end the perks in conjunction with the May 2013 election of new trustees.

"I personally agree that directionally in government there needs to be some harmonization between benefits with what goes on in the private sector, so I'm in favor of the action they took last week," Ossyra said. "It's already and done and voters need to know they've taken this action and then hold them accountable to make sure it is, indeed, implemented."

Dorr, however, said he was appalled by quick squashing of the discussion from the leader of the Republican organization he belongs to.

"They absolutely punted tonight. They wanted to get this out of the public eye as fast as they can. They don't want this on the ballot," Dorr said. "It appalls me that the leadership of the NTRO comes in here and refuses to let this go on the ballot. Let the voters make a statement."

Several elected township officials say they're on board with the idea and claim they are as eager as Dorr for the practice to end, though nothing's stopping them from doing it themselves.

Two-term Trustee Fred Spitzzeri said last week's decision to rescind the perks in 2013 was actually part of a three-year phase-out of benefits.

"We were going to do it (eliminate the perks) anyway, and since this came to a head we decided to just do it now instead of waiting two years," Spitzzeri said. "It was going to happen anyway. Under the law we can't add or subtract from our compensation package during our term. Voluntarily, I guess we could say we want to stop doing that, but I'm not aware of anyone who has discussed that as an option."

Up until about six years ago Naperville Township employees received free health care coverage.

That all changed when elected officials started getting it for free, employees there said. Since then, township employees have had to pay 10 to 15 percent of the premium, according to documents sent from the township. During that same time, Spitzzeri has cost taxpayers $110,000 for his coverage, records show.

Spitzzeri defended the perk.

"We've been very fiscally responsible," he said. "We cut insurance and salary benefits for the elected officials by $200,000 last year."

The combined cost of health insurance coverage for Naperville Township's eight elected officials was 31 percent of the organization's $396,000 insurance spending in 2010, the records show.

Trustee Esin Buscae also went on the record supporting the elimination of the benefits package.

"I didn't support this from the beginning," she said.

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