If Libertyville Township Trustee Terry White left office today, he would receive about $1,000 a year for the rest of his life.
That's because he's been contributing 4.5 percent of his annual part-time trustee salary toward an Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pension since he first joined the board 14 years ago. It's cost him $2,248 over that time, but that's money he'll eventually get back. Meanwhile, it'll cost taxpayers even more as they contribute at varying and higher rates each year, and that's money they won't get back.
White makes $4,200 a year as a trustee, according to township records. This year, White will contribute about $200 to his retirement plan, but taxpayers in the Lake County township will add another $500 toward his pension. Combined, pension contributions for all four Libertyville Township trustees will cost taxpayers $1,992 this year.
White could not be reached for comment about his pension plan and the other three trustees -- Sari Hurtig, Richard Mittelman and Robin O'Connor -- either would not comment or could not be reached as well. But Libertyville Township Supervisor Kathleen O'Connor did call back to answer questions about the perk.
"It would be more than reasonable to put an end to it," she said. "It hasn't been an issue, but I think with everything that's going on and if we're being fiscally responsible, it's certainly something that could be addressed. It's such a part-time job."
There are 26 trustees from nine suburban townships who are currently contributing toward pensions.
In the grand scheme of things, the pension cost for trustees is rather minuscule. Combining all 26 suburban trustees participating in the IMRF program, the cost to taxpayers will be a little more than $20,000 this year.
But IMRF officials note that trustees can use their annual township salary totals to boost their final pension payouts if they retire from other public-sector jobs. Additionally, the state's Reciprocal Act allows trustees to receive time credit at other higher-paying elected offices or public jobs that would also boost future pensions.
Only Addison Township trustees responded to requests for comment by sending a faxed statement.
"The benefits are minuscule because the pay is so low," trustee Mark Nowak said in the statement. "However, we pay our fair share into the plan which helps stabilize the whole statewide program."
Critics call shenanigans.
"The intent of public pensions was to provide fair retirement benefits to police, firefighters, teachers and other first responders who help hold our society together," said Robert Reed, director of programming and investigations for the Chicago-based government watchdog group the Better Government Association. "Unfortunately, this sounds like another example of public pension misuse and abuse. I cannot see why they would deserve a pension."
Township trustees are elected every four years and their main responsibility is to appear at about 12 meetings a year. Among 50 suburban townships surveyed in six counties, pay for trustees ranges between $12,000 in Cook County's Leyden Township and $660 in Kane County's Hampshire Township. The average yearly trustee salary among the 50 townships surveyed is $3,679.
Townships have to pass a special resolution to allow trustees to participate in the IMRF's pension program. Most of those resolutions were passed long before the current batch of trustees were elected to the post. In fact, 17 of the 50 townships surveyed have passed such resolutions. Six of DuPage County's nine townships have such resolutions in place. Some or all of the trustees in Addison, Bloomingdale, Milton, Naperville and York townships are participating in the pension program. Lisle Township trustees have the ability to participate, but don't.
But the perk is coming to an end in Naperville Township, according to Supervisor Gary Vician, himself a former trustee.
"I had been bringing it up earlier, but there wasn't an urge from the public like there is now," he said.
Earlier this year, Naperville Township trustees buckled under mounting public pressure and agreed to end health insurance benefits for future township trustees and end retirement benefits for current and future trustees after 2013. Vician said he is hoping to pass a similar resolution for the township clerk's post.
Elk Grove Township trustees in Cook County could receive pensions if they chose to, but none do.
"I've been a trustee for nine years and prior to me coming here none of the trustees were taking pensions," said trustee Andrea Koshaba. "We're just trying to be fiscally responsible. If there was a pension it would be very little, so I don't know why anyone would bother. I don't think any township trustee should receive a pension."
But Reed believes it's the principle, more than anything else, that should get townships to stop offering pensions to trustees.
"The numbers aren't huge, but the message is still the same," he argued. "Public pensions are being misused. And those that are really deserving of them could really end up getting hurt because they all get tarred as abusing the system. And that's not fair."
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