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posted: 9/24/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: No reason for $3 million-plus in county stipends

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  • Gwen Henry, DuPage County treasurer, is one of hundreds of county officials who are receiving taxpayer-funded stipends.

      Gwen Henry, DuPage County treasurer, is one of hundreds of county officials who are receiving taxpayer-funded stipends.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

First came news that scores of assessors around the state frequently have been qualifying for $3,000 annual stipends.

Now, Daily Herald Suburban Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin reports, most county auditors, clerks, court clerks, coroners, recorders, treasurers and sheriffs are in on the act, too. They get $6,500 each in state stipends, in essence, because they were elected to public office. This on top of six-figure salaries for several suburban county officials.

More than 530 county officials received the stipends this year, ringing up a total of more than $3.4 million that came from our pockets while the state is billions behind in paying its bills and has the worst unfunded pension system in the nation.

And, oh yes, speaking of pensions, these stipends get folded into these officials' salaries, boosting their pensions and the cost we all bear when they retire.

Between the assessors' stipends, which cost as much as $650,000 a year statewide, and the larger bonuses for the bevy of county officials, taxpayers are on the hook for a grand total of $3.78 million so far in 2012, according to comptroller records.

Maybe this stipend program could be justified years ago in economic boom times. Maybe.

But now? It's hard to fathom any justification for spending these millions on county officials who already make a set salary agreed to by a governing body before they are elected.

And yet, it doesn't seem like some county officials really get why taxpayers might be upset about the stipends.

Gwen Henry, the DuPage County treasurer who makes $135,762 before the stipend, says the county board considers the stipends when they set officials' salaries.

"From the standpoint that if the county is reducing the salary to compensate for the stipend, then they're fair," she said. "It's supposedly making up for the work we do that pertains to the state."

Are we the only ones who think the regular salary itself is compensation enough for the work countywide officials do?

Look, we know county and other public officials work hard. They often put in long hours at events outside the typical work day. We get that, and we do value public service.

But Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas landed much closer to reality when she said, "It's a big deal now because people hate elected officials and think they're overpaid."

We don't hate elected officials. We do, however, think elected officials who are getting thousands of dollars in stipends are overpaid.

So, Henry, for instance, really is grossing more than $142,000 with the stipend; her pension will be based on that higher amount.

And we wonder why Illinois can't pay its bills or fund its pensions. We wonder why our taxes keep going up but the state debt does too.

Where and when does it end? When do we demand it?

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