Wauconda mayoral candidate Frank Bart is critical of the salaries earned by the town's police officers, calling the pay levels "out of control."
"I think it's unsustainable, period," Bart said during a candidate endorsement interview at the Daily Herald's Libertyville office.
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When specifically asked if he thinks the town's cops are overpaid, however, Bart wouldn't give a direct answer.
Incumbent Mayor Mark F. Knigge, who also attended the session, defended the police officers' paychecks.
Officers who stay with a department longer are going to earn more than rookies, Knigge said, and job retention is high in Wauconda.
Additionally, Knigge believes good police service is a "quality of life issue" deserving of funding.
Bart and Knigge are facing off in the April 9 election. They discussed the police department, the town's business climate and other issues during the hourlong session.
The police department has 26 full-time officers, including sergeants and command staff, Chief Douglas Larsson said.
Bart, who is making his first bid for public office, was unhappy with the police department's payroll.
Bart claimed patrol officers make $81,000 annually and receive $17,000 in benefits and then rounded the total up to about $100,000 a year.
"That used to be a job that was a middle class job. Now it's upper-middle class," said Bart, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who also has a private-sector job.
When asked if he thought patrol officers make too much money in Wauconda, Bart skirted the question, saying only the current pay scale is "unsustainable."
When pressed, Bart talked about property taxes and how residents are being squeezed for cash.
The average salary for Wauconda's patrol officers is $79,568, Larsson said, quoting a labor union contract and information from the village's finance department. Additionally, the officers' insurance benefits total about $11,467 annually.
That adds to $91,035.
Knigge, a former village trustee who was elected mayor in 2009, defended the town's officers and the size of their paychecks.
"When you have quality workers and they stay there for any length of time, their salaries are going to go up," Knigge said. "It's just a fact of life."
He praised Larsson for improving the operation since he was hired in 2009. Knigge called hiring the well-regarded Larsson his biggest accomplishment as mayor.
But Knigge also acknowledged money has been an issue in town. He said he hopes to encourage some of the department's seven sergeants to leave the department with an early-retirement program.
Cash also could be saved by allowing employees to opt out of the village health insurance program, if their spouses have insurance plans, Knigge said.