The personal and political debate about how much city council members should be paid continues in Naperville with a new proposal to increase salaries but remove health and dental benefits.
The latest idea suggests a smaller salary increase than council member Steve Chirico brought forward last month, and it goes further to eliminate health insurance coverage for those elected to the council.
A yearly salary of $20,000 without health insurance now is up for a possible vote during the council's May 20 meeting. The previous proposal called for a $24,000 salary without health insurance unless the council member paid 100 percent of the cost of his or her plan.
Without any changes, council members seated after the spring 2015 election will be paid $12,500 a year with medical and dental insurance available.
Chirico said the latest suggestion is better because it actually would save the city money compared with the cost of providing health care to the five out of eight council members who have enrolled for the benefit.
"Now the idea is how do we find a compromise that we can get through so we can start to modernize this compensation package?" Chirico said.
The city is spending $71,000 a year to provide health insurance for council members Judith Brodhead, Chirico, Doug Krause, Joseph McElroy and David Wentz. Add that to the $100,000 yearly cost of a $12,500 salary for each council member and the number to beat is $171,000.
The cost of paying each council member $20,000 a year with no benefits is $160,000, which would be a savings of $11,000. But that's assuming the council members elected next spring make the same health insurance choices as those on the council now.
The city budgets $135,000 a year for council health insurance benefits in case all members choose the most expensive plan, for a total of $235,000 plus salaries. So Chirico's latest proposal would save $75,000 from the budgeted total.
Some council members object to the idea of raising the salary at all. They include Paul Hinterlong, who last month proposed the elimination of health care from council compensation, and Grant Wehrli, who is running for state representative in the November election.
"I don't know why we're asking for more money and patting ourselves on the back," Hinterlong said. "That makes no sense to me."
Hinterlong and Wehrli are joined by council member Robert Fieseler in not receiving health insurance from the city. Fieseler said compensation discussions, which have spanned a workshop and several meetings since October, are dragging on too long.
"We have been really focused inwardly, I think to the detriment of focusing on things that could be more beneficial to our community," Fieseler said.
As the council looks for a salary number a majority will accept, Wehrli said the best amount is what's already been chosen.
"The right place for me is at $12,500 with no benefits because I don't think we have a problem attracting talent," Wehrli said.
Chirico, however, said part of the rationale for raising salaries is to ensure the position is affordable to a variety of residents with different careers and financial situations. He said removing health insurance and creating one flat salary also would increase transparency of council benefits and create equality among members who now receive combined salary and benefit packages that vary by more than $10,000.
The issue has stirred interest on social media and among Naperville residents. While Brodhead said she has seen Facebook discussions about the topic, she said no one has called her, emailed her directly or talked with her at an event about how much council members should be paid.
Hinterlong said his experience has been the opposite.
"I've never been approached more on an agenda item in this town than the one we're speaking on right now," Hinterlong said.
Four residents spoke before the council Tuesday night, voicing concerns about a lack of transparency in the benefits council members receive and the fairness of asking for a raise.
"It takes a little bit of hubris here to ask for this pay increase at this time," resident Jeff Anderson said.
Council members considered putting off further debate until July or having an independent, outside group evaluate compensation and suggest a fair amount. But they opted to bring back Chirico's suggested $20,000 salary without benefits for further discussion in two weeks.
"Some people have asked me why I've been taking the lead on this," Chirico said. "It's because I think this is the best direction for the future."