Already scant on responsibilities, Milton Township trustees soon will have one thing less to worry about.
Trustees from the township in the middle of DuPage County won't be contributing toward a pension, if everything goes as expected.
The move comes shortly after a Daily Herald investigation revealed Milton Township to be one of nine suburban townships in six counties that allows such pensions and after an audit by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund questioned whether the trustees put in the minimum amount of time required to qualify for the perk.
“Trustees really shouldn't be signed up for a pension,” said Milton Township Supervisor Chris Heidorn. “I don't think we think the job demands the 1,000 hours required.”
Milton Township put an end to pensions for trustees, but four DuPage County townships still contribute to the pension program for trustees: Addison, Bloomingdale, Naperville and York, though Naperville Township officials said the practice will end in 2013.
Hanover and Leyden townships in Cook County as well as Aurora Township in Kane County and Libertyville Township in Lake County also allow trustees to collect pensions.
Each year since 2007, retirement fund auditors have been investigating 80 or so of the nearly 3,000 government agencies that contribute to the pension program, officials at the pension agency said. One of the areas auditors are honing in on are elected positions that don't maintain any type of time-keeping.
DuPage County recently underwent such an audit, which also questioned the work time of county board members.
“Based upon responses we received (from DuPage County), we were unable to determine that the county board members met the hourly standard requirement,” an IMRF report stated.
In response, IMRF officials required county board members to sign affidavits stating that the members worked at least 1,000 hours a year, county officials said. Though the affidavit states that it's a felony to sign the document and not work the required time, it doesn't require board members to actually track their time spent working on county business. County officials said more than 10 of the 18 board members had signed the affidavit. DuPage County, with its roughly 2,000 employees, is one of the largest single contributors to IMRF.
The Milton Township board — made up of four trustees and Heidorn — voted earlier this month to end the perk for trustees, retroactive to Jan. 1. Only Trustee Salvatore Falbo does not contribute to the pension program. Heidorn, who works full time, will continue to be eligible for a pension.
Township trustees are required to do little more than to show up at a dozen or so meetings a year to vote on various township funding initiatives.
IMRF officials said they had not received a formal notice of Milton Township's plans, but speculated that because trustees Christopher Edwards and Marie Jensen were not vested in the pension program yet, all of their contributions would be returned to them, plus interest. In July, IMRF records indicated that Jensen had contributed less than $150 during her short stint on the board and Edwards had contributed nearly $600 after two years as a trustee.
Meanwhile, Trustee Jim Flickinger is vested after more than 10 years on the job. IMRF officials said he would be allowed to keep his pension, if he chose. Flickinger could not be reached for comment. He had contributed more than $2,700 over the past decade, according to IMRF records. He stands to receive an estimated $1,000 a year upon retirement from the board as long as he's older than 60, based on the IMRF benefit formula.
The changes also wouldn't affect any former trustees who are vested but have yet to begin collecting a pension, IMRF spokeswoman Linda Horrell said.
“Absent serious evidence, of the kind that could be used in court, that the position did not qualify during the period the inactive or retired person earned service credit in that position, we will not attempt to take a pension away from a retiree or service credit away from an inactive member,” Horrell said. “Remember, just because the incumbents do not think the position requires the hours, that says nothing about what hours were required in the past.”
As for contributions made by the township on behalf of the trustees, Horrell said that money would be kept in the fund to be put toward the township's other contributing personnel.