Health benefits for future Naperville councils still uncertain

Updated 4/16/2014 4:22 PM

The Naperville City Council has taken a step toward eliminating health insurance for future council members and mayors as the debate about benefits for elected officials continues.

A proposal to be discussed again May 6 calls for eliminating medical and dental insurance for council members beginning after the spring 2015 election, coupled with an increase in salary from the planned $12,500 to a potential $24,000 a year.

A separate proposal would allow part-time salaried employees, including city council members, to purchase health insurance through the city at the full cost of the premium. Still another proposal would prevent former council members from being able to remain on the city's health plans, even though those who opted to stay on had been paying full cost.

Council member Steve Chirico presented the proposals and said the combination could save the city up to $45,000 a year compared to the possibility of all council members elected in 2015 choosing the most expensive insurance. Compared to the current health insurance situation on the council -- in which Paul Hinterlong, Robert Fieseler and Grant Wehrli have opted not to receive the benefit -- Chirico's proposal for a $24,000 salary without health insurance could cost the city an estimated $8,000 to $22,000 more a year.

Chirico said eliminating health insurance and paying council members one "all-in" salary would increase transparency, end inequalities between compensation for different council members, improve consistency between council members and other part-time employees and make the position affordable for residents from all walks of life.

"Our compensation is fair but inconsistent in policy," Chirico said. "I think the best way is to wrap everything we receive into an all-in salary with no benefits."

This is the latest in a series of moves to limit benefits council members receive, after the council has eliminated cellphone and Internet stipends as well as pension eligibility in recent months.

The idea got support from six of nine elected officials, but council members Doug Krause, Hinterlong and Wehrli voted against it.

With the proposal to allow part-time employees and council members to purchase health insurance through the city at their own cost, Wehrli said the changes Chirico proposed effectively do nothing.

"Here we are trying to save everything before it goes away, and we can do it in a cost-saving way so we can save money, but we're going to double our salary," Wehrli said. "It's a last-ditch effort to maintain the status quo."

He said outside pressures have been causing the council to "whittle away" benefits one by one. He agreed the proposals would remove inequalities between council members, whose yearly benefits now range from $2,383 for Hinterlong to $19,687 for Chirico, who said he has himself, his wife and one child covered under a city plan.

As council members debated the issue Tuesday, several questioned the political timing of the latest push to remove benefits.

"I don't want to affect the good working relationship among the council, but it seems like we're really doing this in just an arduous manner here with all the times we've revisited this and some of the grandstanding that goes on," Fieseler said.

Hinterlong sparked the latest discussion April 1 when he called for the elimination of health insurance because of "fairness issues" between part-time city employees and part-time council members. While employees must work 30 hours a week to qualify for health insurance, council members recently failed to certify that fulfilling the duties of their job requires at least 1,000 hours of work a year -- or roughly 20 hours a week -- in an Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund audit.

Hinterlong said declining benefits is a positive development among elected officials.

"It's a trend that's changing, and I think it should," Hinterlong said. "I think it's in everyone's best interest."

Chirico also moved to eliminate health insurance, pension and vehicle benefits for all mayors elected after spring 2015 in a proposal that would raise the mayor's salary from $30,070 to $42,000 a year. Both the mayor and city council members would be eligible for annual salary increases of 1.5 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is lowest, under the proposals Chirico brought forward Tuesday.

The higher pay and elimination of benefits for the position of mayor also was supported by six out of nine elected officials including Mayor George Pradel. Council members Joseph McElroy, Hinterlong and Wehrli voted against it.

No final action has been taken on the proposed compensation changes and benefit eliminations.

Staff will draft ordinances that could legislate the changes and the council will begin discussions at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, in the municipal center, 400 S. Eagle St.

A vote could come then, but ordinances typically are discussed twice before official action is taken. A decision is more likely to be made during the council's meeting on Tuesday, May 20.

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