Townships offer little change on taxpayer-funded health benefits for elected officials
Daily Herald: On Guard
It will be slow going for taxpayers looking to reform how suburban townships pay for elected officials' health care.
Several township officials said there had been no discussion about possible changes to coverage policies in the wake of a Daily Herald investigation that revealed more than two dozen suburban townships provide free health care to 70-plus elected officials at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1 million in 2010.
Others, however, said they plan to discuss reforms and one township board even voted for major changes -- effective in 2013.
Some cited legal concerns about changing policies on insurance premium coverage in the middle of an official's term in office, while saying they'll give it some thought before the next township election in April 2013.
"The discussion can happen now," said Elgin Township Supervisor Annette Miller.
The topic wasn't on most townships' agendas ahead of their annual "town meetings," which were Tuesday.
But some residents did ask about what will be done in the future.
"I felt that's a justified benefit for those who are elected and working full time," John Schockmel said, "but certainly not the trustees."
The elected assessor, highway commissioner and supervisor jobs are full-time in most townships while trustees, some of whom get free health benefits, typically are only required to attend a meeting or two per month.
Schockmel, a retired school administrator, was the only one of about a dozen who attended Fremont Township's annual meeting to voice concern over the costs. Only one trustee in Fremont Township receives taxpayer-provided health care coverage.
Naperville Township trustees voted a week before Tuesday's meeting to cease medical and pension benefits for themselves after the next township election in 2013. That move helped kill a proposal by a resident to end the practice when the township's annual insurance contract comes up for renewal again.
That means employees of Naperville Township will have to continue paying part of their health care premium for the next two years, while elected officials pay none. The same goes for Elgin Township, which requires full-time staffers to pay part of the premium at the same time that elected full-timers like Miller, Highway Commissioner Richard Burnidge and Assessor Steve Surnicki, pay nothing toward their insurance coverage.
"We are willing, in view of the economy, to sit down and take a look at this," Burnidge said.
Downers Grove Township officials say they have made significant changes. After years of offering trustees coverage at a significant cost to taxpayers, the township began offering a monthly stipend toward trustees' insurance coverage, which they can purchase either through the township or privately, said Trustee Kathy Abbate. Two trustees received $1,800 in 2010 toward their insurance coverage in that township.
One of those Downers Grove Township trustees, William Swanston, has his dental insurance paid for out of the stipend at a rate of $38 a month. Then the township cuts him a $112 check each month, which he puts toward supplemental insurance through a private carrier, officials there said. He is not required to provide invoices from his insurance carrier to the township.
In other townships throughout the suburbs, the issue was merely a talking point during the annual meetings' public comments and never addressed by township officials.
More than 100 people attended Addison Township's meeting, but Supervisor Kathryn Cermak-Durante said the board had made no decisions about the coverage policies when asked if there were changes on the horizon. In that township, full-time elected officials and part-time trustees have access to free health care coverage.
Daily Herald Staff Writers Justin Kmitch, Tara Mathewson Garcia, Elisabeth Mistretta and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.