DuPage forest preserve may end pensions for elected officials

DuPage County Forest Preserve District commissioners want to end their taxpayer-funded pensions, but it's unclear how they can eliminate the perk.

Commissioners voted 7-0 Tuesday to direct staff members to look into ending the participation of board members and the board president in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

According to the resolution, the board "desires to remove the seven elected board positions from IMRF program eligibility, both for current and all future position holders."

Staff members will "research available options to cease participation in the IMRF plan, including the immediate removal for service credit and financial contributions, for the seven elected board member positions."

Forest preserve President Joe Cantore said he proposed the move as a cost-saving measure.

For example, commissioners in November approved changes to employee compensation policies that eliminated retention incentives and lump-sum payments to retiring employees for accumulated sick leave.

Cantore said it only makes sense to examine the benefits elected officials receive.

"It's kind of a logical next step to do something that I think is in line with the cost-saving measures we've undertaken," said Cantore, who was in the pension plan as a commissioner but withdrew when he became president in December 2014.

Commissioner Jeff Redick said eliminating pensions for elected officials is important.

"As a board of commissioners, I am proud of the bold leadership we have shown in the implementation of changes to our policies that have decreased long-term financial obligations, thereby providing valuable taxpayer savings," Redick said. "This action is further evidence of that commitment and helps us attain that goal."

Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli, who didn't sign up for the pension, said the proposal is "long overdue." She estimates pensions for elected officials are costing the district more than $30,000 a year.

If the board votes to remove elected officials from the pension plan, some want the decision implemented right away.

"The goal is to make that change on an immediate basis for both current and future elected officials," Redick said.

However, it may not be legally possible for the change to apply to commissioners already enrolled in IMRF. Those commissioners are Redick, Marsha Murphy, Linda Painter, Tim Whelan and Al Murphy.

Commissioners aren't required to enroll in IMRF. But once they do, they can't withdraw unless they leave office.

They are required to work a minimum 1,000 hours a year to be eligible for the pension.

Redick said the district needs to speak with IMRF in the coming weeks about what steps can be taken.

If it's determined pensions can only be eliminated for future commissioners and board presidents, Redick said, "It would be disappointing but better than nothing."

The Daily Herald on Tuesday sent IMRF officials several questions concerning the proposal and they said they are preparing responses.

Forest preserve commissioners are paid $50,000 a year. The president is paid $75,000 a year.

The elected officials also are eligible to receive medical and dental insurance through the forest preserve district.

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