Both Republican candidates running for the District 4 seat on the DuPage County Forest Preserve Commission say changes should be made to district salaries and pension packages.
But neither directly advocates cutting commissioners' $57,000 annual salaries and neither indicated they would necessarily refuse a pension for themselves.
Incumbent Michael Formento, director of the Glen Ellyn Chamber of Commerce, said he believes current salaries should be frozen at their current level, but not lowered. Challenger Tim Whelan, a Wheaton attorney, said both salaries and pensions need to be reviewed, and possibly lowered, but does not offer solid figures.
Both men are seeking their party's nomination in the March 20 GOP primary. The winner will go on to the November general election to face Democrat Robert Flesvig.
"Salaries need to be looked at," Whelan said during an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald. "Any company looks at compensation. Not just salary, but pensions and benefits. My sense is it's too high. It doesn't compare to comparable government agencies, starting with the county board."
County board members currently earn $50,000 annually, plus a pension and health benefits, for a part-time post that requires 1,000 hours of work a year. By comparison, forest preserve commissioners earn roughly $57,000, along with a pension and benefits, for a post that also is part-time.
Forest preserve commissioners also get regular raises, including a recent boost this winter that equaled about 3 percent.
Formento said he advocates for freezing commissioner salaries, but he does not advocate cutting them.
"I did not vote for the increase in the last go-round, because I felt the salaries were adequate," Formento said. "I know the county board reduced their salaries by $7,000, but I don't see that as anything more than a political approach."
Formento added that he works more than the required 1,000 hours, spending his time working with forest preserve staff, meeting with individual citizens, and giving presentations to community organizations.
"I'm out in the field all the time (and) I believe I am providing a public service," he said.
Whelan said he would also likely spend more than 1,000 hours working with staff, reviewing contracts, and remaining plugged into forest preserve even after hours via computer and smartphone.
"There's plenty to do," Whelan said. "I think a commissioner could spend 2,000 hours."
Both candidates agree pensions should be "looked at," but suggest looking elsewhere for reform. In addition, while several candidates running for commission seats in other districts said they will forgo a pension, Formento and Whelan did not say whether they would accept.
"We look at pensions annually and we look at health costs," Formento said. "We have increased the part that commissioners and employees have to pay for health insurance. I'm not sure pension reform should be done by individual government agencies, but by the state."
Whelan said he believes in pension reform, but doesn't think the forest preserve should take the lead.
"Gwen Henry, the president of Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, is right here in DuPage County. We should look to her as to what kind of reform should happen for employees and elected officials," Whelan said. "I think we should start with the expertise here. She may say they should be eliminated."
Whelan added he "probably won't be on the board long enough to be vested in a pension," saying he plans to serve no more than two terms.
District 4 includes all or parts of Addison, Carol Stream, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Lombard, Winfield and Wheaton.