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posted: 4/13/2014 8:00 AM

Naperville to consider cutting health care for council

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The Naperville City Council recently ended cellphone and Internet stipends for future council members and discontinued eligibility to participate in public pensions, but the discussion about compensation isn't over.

The focus now has shifted to health care and whether council members and mayors elected beginning next year should be able to sign up for medical and dental insurance through the city.

Council member Paul Hinterlong said he thinks they should not. At the council's most recent meeting April 1, he brought up the idea of eliminating health benefits for all future members starting after the elections next spring. He said the move could save taxpayers about $100,000.

"It occurred to me that our own employees that we have that are part-time don't get the same benefits we do," Hinterlong said. "If we consider ourselves part-time, why are we better than our employees?"

Hinterlong's proposal will spark another round of compensation discussions, scheduled to take place during the council's next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the municipal center, 400 S. Eagle St.

Ideas floated so far include eliminating health care eligibility, keeping health care with council salaries of $12,500 beginning after the spring 2015 election, or eliminating health care but increasing the salary to about $25,000.

"Let's either leave it as it is or let's change it to make an adjusted salary with today's pay to be transparent, and we can stop this constant discussion," council member Steve Chirico said.

The timing of Hinterlong's proposal -- about a month after the council voted to end members' pension participation -- is raising eyebrows for some, including council members Joseph McElroy and David Wentz. They say the pension issue is the only thing that has changed since the council held a workshop about future members' compensation late last year and agreed to keep health insurance benefits as is.

"We've crossed this bridge before, and I question why we need to revisit this," Wentz said. "I defend the right to have health insurance."

Council member Grant Wehrli, who is running for state representative in the November election, said he respects the difficulty of discussing council pay and benefits, which he called "a sensitive topic."

"It's difficult when talking about our own compensation to have an open and honest conversation," Wehrli said.

But if the math works out to show savings for the city, Wehrli said he would lean toward eliminating health benefits for future elected officials.

Naperville mayors have been eligible for health insurance since 1983 and city council members since 1986.

"I think it becomes a very challenging thing to justify when you look at the fact that there are only nine city employees that are technically part-time employees but (are able to) get health care," Wehrli said.

City Manager Doug Krieger said Naperville could save a maximum of $135,000 by removing health care eligibility for council members and the mayor -- but that's assuming all nine elected officials signed up for health insurance and chose the most expensive plan.

As it stands, three council members -- Hinterlong, Wehrli and Robert Fieseler -- are not receiving health care through the city.

The other five council members and Mayor George Pradel are receiving health coverage at costs to the city between $12,779.54 for council member Judith Brodhead and $19,687.60 for Chirico.

Elected officials themselves contribute paycheck deductions worth 20 percent of the premium of the health plan they choose.

Benefits for council members and the mayor are costing Naperville a total of $103,887 this year, but that includes Social Security, Medicare, life insurance and the recently discontinued pension benefits along with health care costs.

"I don't think the taxpayers should be footing the bill for our health care when they don't have to for employees working more than we are," Hinterlong said.

Employees are required under federal health care reform to work 30 hours a week in order to receive health insurance, so Hinterlong said continuing coverage for part-time council members who likely work less than that creates a fairness issue.

A majority of council members did not certify that their position requires them to work roughly 20 hours a week, or 1,000 hours a year, during a recent Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund audit.

So Hinterlong said it's unlikely council members meet the minimum 30-hour requirement for health insurance eligibility.

"The more people you talk to around town, they don't realize we get these benefits," Hinterlong said. "It's more of an awareness thing to let the taxpayers know where their dollars are going and what our benefits are."

Naperville business owner Ray Kinney agreed the public is generally unaware that city council members can receive health care benefits.

"I think it's not known and it also creates inequalities within the council ... it's time for it to end," Kinney said. "I feel very strongly that people who choose to do public service ought to do it as a public service and not be in it for the benefits."

While this is the third time in about six months the city council has tackled topics related to future members' compensation, Hinterlong said now is as good a time as any. All eight council positions will be up for election next spring, so he said it is better to settle salary and benefit issues now before the seats are up for grabs.

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