Only subtleties separate DuPage County Board District 1 hopefuls on pay, pensions
With all DuPage County Board seats up for election Nov. 6, many hopefuls differ on whether board members' annual $50,000 salaries and publicly funded pensions are appropriate.
But in District 1, the three Republicans and three Democrats running for three available seats agree the pay is fair and are mostly instep on pensions.
There are subtle differences, however, that explain their positions.
Democrat Thomas Michael Castillo, formerly of Elmhurst, said he believes the pay is fair but is undecided on the pensions.
"With a median home value of $313,000 and a median household income of $76,000 in DuPage, I believe pay for county board members is just about right," Castillo said.
"While it is a part-time job, it prevents most board members from working their regular full-time jobs. As a county, we need to attract quality individuals from all backgrounds to represent us," he said.
Castillo currently lives in California and moved due to lack of work through his electrical union in Illinois. If elected, Castillo said he is willing to take a pay cut from his current job in California, move back to District 1 and focus on the county board.
Democratic newcomer Maria C. DeAngelis-Vesey, of Elmhurst, said she doesn't think pay or pensions should be slashed any more. The board cut pay in 2008 for 12 positions, then made the same cuts for the other six posts in 2010. The cuts amounted to a decrease from $51,581 a year to $50,079.
DeAngelis-Vesey said she believes the pay is "a little high for a part-time job," but said the position demands many more hours than the 1,000-hour minimum requirement.
"On the flip side, most board members work full-time at this job, so I think they deserve a pension," she said.
DeAngelis-Vesey said she would accept the pension if elected, adding "it is the entitlement of every single American to have a pension if they are working hard."
Republican incumbent Paul Fichtner, also of Elmhurst, said he agrees the pay is fair and seconds Castillo's idea that the salary attracts a diverse cross-section of professionals to the board.
"If the compensation is too low, our board would probably be made up of mostly the rich or retired. Too high and people may become candidates for the wrong reason," Fichtner said.
"It's not easy to set compensation, but many competent professional people that would make excellent board members already stay away from public service because they can't afford to take a hit to their career by staying away from the office a full day or more every week. Being a county board member requires a lot of time, even more time when a board member becomes chairman of a committee."
Fichtner noted he helped eliminate stipends for board members and travel cost reimbursements for travel within the county to attend county board meetings.
Democratic incumbent Rita Gonzalez of Addison declined to participate in interviews or written questionnaires conducted by Daily Herald.
Like Fichtner and Republican incumbent Donald Puchalski, Gonzalez voted for the pay cuts in 2010 but does contribute to a pension.
Donald Puchalski of Addison said the cuts were "the right thing to do," noting board pay has also been frozen for several years.
"We get high accolades for what we do for the finance side and the government side ... and I think $50,000 is a reasonable fee to help run what is essentially a company that has 23,000 employees," Puchalski said.
He added that he has returned part of his salary to the county and used some of his income to support local charities.
Republican hopeful Sam Tornatore of Roselle said the current pay and pension benefits are fair.
Pensions for members are equitable, if they are proportional to their workload, pay and contributions into the system.
"I don't think that's too much for someone handling a $432 million budget and affecting the lives of a million people," Tornatore said.
"The criticism has been of people who aren't putting in the hours and pulling their weight," he said. "You don't solve that problem by punishing the people who do. If three or four people aren't pulling their weight, I wouldn't reduce salaries so it's fair for the underachievers. It's kind of a reverse solution to a problem. If it's government, you don't re-elect them."
The District 1 term will be for either two or four years.
With the exception of the chairman's post, all county board seats are up for election. That's because once every 10 years, the county redraws district boundaries based on the latest U.S. Census results. Next, the county board will hold a lottery to determine which three seats will start with 4-year terms, and which will have 2-year terms.
District 1 includes all or parts of Addison, Bensenville, Elmhurst, Itasca, Lombard, Roselle, Villa Park and Wood Dale.