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posted: 1/30/2013 5:00 AM

Kane County against cutting transit board benefits

Kane County against cutting transit board benefits

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A Kane County Board committee has rejected a plan to support a change in state law that would strip salary, insurance and pension benefits from members of the state's various part-time transit boards.

The county board's legislative committee recently shot down a push to support legislation championed by State Rep. Jack Franks for more than two years. Franks' bill seeks to eliminate compensation, pension and insurance benefits from the RTA, Metra, Pace and CTA board members. All current members of those boards would be grandfathered in. Only new appointees to the boards would lose the pay and benefits.

Serving without insurance and pension benefits were part of the requirements Kane County Board members placed on applicants last year who wanted to become the county's new Metra Board appointee. That slot, and the $15,000 salary, eventually went to former County Board Chairman Mike McCoy.

County board member Jesse Vazquez said McCoy's appointment was a step in the right direction if the state ever wants to get its pension woes under control. Franks' legislation would be the appropriate next step, he said.

"You're not a full-time employee if you're on these boards; you shouldn't be eligible for these benefits," Vazquez said. "They meet once a month. They have some committee meetings. They are not full-time employees."

But county board member Jennifer Laesch said that same job description could also apply to county board members.

Indeed, the pension and health insurance benefits received by county board members has been an issue during the past two elections. While some board members have sworn off the benefits on an individual basis, no board member has ever brought forward a motion to take away the pension and/or health insurance from the body as a whole.

"I don't know if I want to touch this," Laesch said. "Some people can come to us and say, 'You're not a full-time employee, either.' "

Laesch advocated for county board positions to become classified as full-time roles during her campaign.

"There's a lot that we do and we read, and it's very time consuming," she said.

Vazquez said there is an inherent difference between being an appointed member of a transit board and an elected member of a taxing body. County board member Phil Lewis agreed and said a bigger problem is the high percentage of transit board members who've previously served in a full-time government position.

When that happens, the transit appointments act as a pension booster.

A Daily Herald investigation found nearly two dozen current and former suburban officials collect pay and/or pension from transit boards that cost Illinois taxpayers more than $1 million a year.

"I don't think that's fair," Lewis said. "It's just not practical."

But the majority of the county board's legislative committee didn't agree in voting down a motion to support the legislation. Franks' bill still sits in the House's Rules Committee.

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