Nine Kane County department directors received 5 percent raises and benefit enhancements Tuesday as county board Chairman Chris Lauzen wanted, with little pushback in the end.
County board members who spoke for weeks against Lauzen's plan to reward the employees who report directly to him had little success in rallying support from their colleagues.
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Lauzen took several weeks to unveil the full plan for the raises and its financial impact. That process drew opposition from board members weary of approving known cost increases outside the normal budget process.
Other board members spoke against adding salary costs before all the unknown costs associated with multiple expired union contracts are known. Others opposed the concept of giving public employees raises in a down economy.
"As we increase salaries, we increase pensions, and we increase the costs of running the government," board member Doug Scheflow said. "As we increase the cost of government, we increase the pressure on the sales tax and, perhaps, the property tax as well. I'm voting 'no' on imposing that pressure at this time."
Scheflow also voted against two union contracts that will provide raises totaling 9 percent over four years.
But all those arguments yielded only five "no" votes on the raises Tuesday. Board members Mark Davoust and Melisa Taylor, who were vocal opponents of the raises, were absent Tuesday. A total of 17 board members voted in favor of the raises.
There is a $58,111 price tag for the raises and benefit enhancements. Lauzen wooed supporters by pitching the raises as fair compensation for underpaid employees.
Until a 2 percent raise last year, the directors involved had not received any pay increase for four years. Several of the directors targeted for the raises were either not employed by the county or not serving in their current director positions for the entirety of the pay freeze. Despite that, their current pay lags behind their peers in neighboring counties.
"The standard is that we require superior performance," Lauzen said. "I think it's fair, then, that we offer at least average pay."
Money for the raises is available, Lauzen said, because attrition and a departmental reorganization resulted in savings. County officials also enacted changes to health insurance offerings that freed up cash. And there is a $9.7 million surplus carrying over from the 2013 fiscal year.
Lauzen recognized the process for getting his raises approved was not as smooth as he'd hoped. He pledged to bring forward any future raises for his team during the overall county budget process.
"Difficult decisions can either fracture a team or bring us closer together," Lauzen said. "I feel that this has brought us closer together."