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updated: 11/24/2015 9:18 AM

Editorial: Naperville right to end council's health benefits

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  • Mayor Steve Chirico and the Naperville City Council.

      Mayor Steve Chirico and the Naperville City Council.
    Daily Herald File Photo / Laura Stoecker lstoecker@dailyherald.com

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Should elected city council members qualify for taxpayer-supported benefits that rank-and-file employees don't have?

That's the crux of the matter in Naperville, where city council members voted last week to do away with their access to city health insurance benefits.

We applaud the council for the vote.

It's the right move from a fairness point of view, as well as to save taxpayers money.

Naperville employees need to work at least 30 hours a week to participate in the city's subsidized health insurance program. Last year, six of eight council members failed to certify they spent 1,000 hours a year on city business, which works out to less than 20 hours a week.

The disparity needed to be corrected.

And there's another reason why we're glad to see the health benefits go. Representing fellow citizens by serving on the council is not meant to be a full-time job, and officeholders shouldn't collect benefits as if it were one.

The Naperville vote on health insurance is part of a slow -- and sometimes divisive -- peeling back of benefits for the council members, who are paid $12,500 a year.

Up until last year, council members also were eligible for pensions, with the city using taxpayer funds to make employer contributions into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. A cellphone and Internet stipend ended in 2013.

The council also ended pension benefits for Mayor Steve Chirico beginning this year with his first term.

Chirico, however, will keep his health insurance, at a cost to taxpayers of $530 a month. Chirico said he works full time on the job of mayor and liquor commissioner, for which he is paid $25,000 a year. He voted against getting rid of health insurance for the city council, saying he considers it fair compensation. We disagree, though we don't doubt the mayor and council work hard.

Even though the vote has been taken, health benefits for council members will be around a while longer. A state law that prohibits diminishing an elected official's benefits during his or her current term in office means access to taxpayer-subsidized health will end for some council members in 2017 and for others in 2019.

Naperville's elected officials haven't necessarily been swift in making these changes, but they have steadfastly moved in the right direction over the years. We urge other governments in the suburbs to follow Naperville's example in setting responsible policies that recognize the importance of fiscal restraint.

"I want to bring closure to this issue," councilman Kevin Coyne said last week.

Revising benefits has been a time-consuming topic for the Naperville City Council for years. We're with Coyne in being glad to see the issue settled.

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