Editorial: Assessor stipend program fails to make sense

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted9/17/2012 11:57 AM

Pop quiz: Did you get a $3,000 stipend last year for doing your job as expected? If you got any kind of bonus or stipend, could you put it toward sweetening your pension? How many of you have pensions?

Not many of you raising your hands or nodding your heads? Right. We're scratching our heads, too, over the nearly 30-year-old program that has the state awarding such stipends to some of the nearly 900 eligible township and county assessors around Illinois that Daily Herald Suburban Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin outlined last week.


According to the state comptroller's office, this "performance stipend" is required by law and has cost taxpayers as much as $650,000 a year. This, yes, while the state is at least $5.8 billion in default and has the worst unfunded pension system in the nation.

Somehow, state legislators who set spending in Illinois saw fit to scale the stipends back in 2010 and 2011 as we all worked through the poor economy. But this year, the amounts are back up to $3,000 per assessor if they qualify by assessing property at a third of the actual value and if sales of properties don't fluctuate by more than 15 percent from the assessed values. This all is already required by state law. So why are we shelling out cash to our well-paid, elected assessors for doing their jobs and following the law?

Griffin reported that among 50 suburban townships in the collar counties, the average assessor salary without the bonus is about $80,000 a year.

Naperville Township Assessor Warren Dixon is the highest-paid suburban assessor, making $118,500 before the bonus stipend he's qualified for the past three consecutive years.

Clearly, Dixon is doing his job and doing it well. We humbly suggest he and the others are paid plenty for the work they do in this economy.

Dixon, and others, noted the stipend program was started as a way to compel assessors to get training so that they could do their jobs better.

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We argue being elected and paid $80,000 a year ought to be inducement enough to do the job for which voters hired you.

We are pleased to see that several assessors and some legislators seem to agree that this program ought to be ended.

"This is a way of giving people raises without legally giving them a raise," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat.

We think Milton Township Assessor Bob Earl summed it up nicely, though he is a recipient of the bonuses: "I think any time you have one form of government paying another government agency money, there's a problem.

"The system is designed by politicians for bureaucrats," Earl said.

The system paid out $123,825 to suburban assessors so far this year and in the past two.

To review: The assessor bonus program has cost us as much as $650,000 a year in a broken state. It doesn't pass the smell test. Legislators will flunk if they don't end this program soon.

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