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Article posted: 4/23/2013 10:08 PM

Dupage forest officials consider pay cut

By Robert Sanchez

Now that state lawmakers have refused to get involved, DuPage County Forest Preserve District commissioners are taking it upon themselves to seek a pay cut.

How far they go to reduce their own salaries and benefits remains to be seen.

Commissioner Shannon Burns is suggesting the six commissioners cut their annual salaries from $53,500 to $50,079, which is the same amount DuPage County Board members receive.

"Our salaries and benefits should be equal (to county board members) because the work we do is equal," Burns said.

Tuesday's discussion about compensation came less than two weeks after the Illinois House rejected a plan to give voters the option to eliminate commissioners' pay.

State Rep. Deborah Conroy, an Elmhurst Democrat, tried to argue that eliminating pay for forest preserve commissioners would save money for DuPage taxpayers. A majority of state lawmakers disagreed.

While he strongly opposed Conroy's proposal, forest preserve district President D. Dewey Pierotti Jr. said commissioners' salaries need to be cut along with the $112,258 annual salary for his position.

In fact, Pierotti said he doesn't believe simple pay cuts are enough.

He is proposing to eliminate medical and pension benefits for future commissioners and the next forest preserve president.

"I can't justify the fact that an elected official for a part-time position is entitled to the same benefits as full-time employees," said Pierotti, who doesn't plan to seek re-election next year.

Burns is the only commissioner who doesn't take the district's medical insurance. She and Mary Lou Wehrli haven't signed up for the pension.

Pierotti's suggestion to eliminate benefits prompted several commissioners to say they consider what they do to be full-time work.

Linda Painter has said she puts in at least the 1,000 hours a year required to be eligible for the publicly funded pension. She reinforced that point Tuesday.

"We've all found out that our job is a lot more than (attending a meeting) once a week," she said. "We're on call 24 hours day."

Tim Whelan agrees that dealing with district issues is a full-time responsibility. "The hours I put in far exceed what any part-time employee would do," he said.

No action was taken after Tuesday's discussion. Some commissioners said they would like to see a decision made soon.

"I think this is a very important issue," Pierotti said.

If the suggested pay cuts and benefit changes are approved, the earliest they could take effect is after the November 2014 election.

As for county board members, they agreed last year to keep their salaries unchanged through the end of November 2016.

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