Glen Ellyn park director's pension boost now at 22 percent
When Cory Atwell announced he was retiring this month as executive director of the Glen Ellyn Park District, it raised some eyebrows. He had recently helped create an early retirement program for six top district administrators -- and promised not to take advantage of it.
When he decided in November to pursue early retirement after all, because of a family health emergency, he said the boost he was getting from his program was slight and that his yearly pension would be "about $66,000." That would have been 12 percent more than without the early retirement plan. But according to figures released to the Daily Herald by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, that bump will actually be 22 percent.
Atwell, 60, has been with the district for 16 years and makes $140,400 a year.
He will receive an annual pension of $73,152 if he follows through on his plan to retire Jan. 14. Without the deal, Atwell's annual pension would have been $59,928.
Atwell, though, said his lower estimate was based on one he received from IMRF officials.
The deal was approved unanimously by commissioners in October 2009 after months of preparation by Atwell and then-Finance Director Laurie Woods, who also took the deal. The IMRF is solely funded by the district.
An analysis conducted by the park district showed that the plan will save the district about $115,000 in five years, provided that the district hires replacements at reduced salaries.
Board President Ed Hess said there was nothing spectacular about the district's early retirement plan and officials modeled it after a template offered by the state pension fund.
"The reason most do that is to save money and that is exactly what we are doing," he said. "We are able to offer an early retirement package for someone like Cory and hire someone new at a cost savings and, because of that, we save the district money."
The combined salaries and benefits of the four employees who took the deal -- Atwell, Woods, longtime employee Jim Rafferty and executive assistant Jeanine Sesto -- total $442,178. Replacement salaries and benefits are projected by the park district at $303,738.
Assuming those figures hold, and projecting 2 percent annual raises, savings during the next five years would reach $720,444, park officials say.
However, the district also is required to make $604,715 in IMRF payments as part of the retirement package. If the payments are not made by this year and next, they will begin accruing interest.
Commissioners said they would have voted for the package, even if they'd known Atwell was going to take the deal.
"I voted for it because it ... showed that we would be saving money over time, as long as we pay it off with not much interest," said Commissioner Julia Nephew.
She added that it's crucial the board work to make the IMRF payments before they begin to accrue interest.
Commissioner Melissa Creech, though, admitted some mild skepticism about whether the plan was truly necessary if employees were planning to retire, anyway.
"There are no guarantees that you are going to come out ahead in the long run," she said. "But the goal is to replace them with less expensive salaries."