Three on Naperville council to turn down raises

 
 
Updated 6/12/2014 4:26 PM
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Naperville City Council members who spent months debating their salaries, pensions and health benefits will have another chance this week to make a statement about their compensation.

Council members have until Friday to turn down an automatic raise that will bump their pay by roughly $295 a year beginning later this month.

Three of them say they will take advantage of that option and reject the pay increase. Paul Hinterlong, Joseph McElroy and Grant Wehrli said they plan to file a "voluntary waiver of compensation increase" form with the city to keep their pay as it is.

"I think it's the right thing to do," Hinterlong said.

Two of the three who are turning down the raise were responsible for spurring much of the council's recent discussions on compensation.

Wehrli pushed for council members to no longer be eligible for pensions, a change that came about on March 4 when the council deleted retirement payments from the list of benefits members receive.

Hinterlong then sought to end the health insurance benefits council members can receive through the city. That proposal failed.

But when council member Steve Chirico suggested removing health insurance eligibility, but raising council salaries to $24,000 or $20,000, Hinterlong and Wehrli both opposed the higher pay rates.

McElroy, the third who said he will turn down this year's raise, said he has rejected all pay hikes since joining the council four years ago because it would be unfair to accept increases when some city employees have dealt with pay freezes.

Council members who have not turned down automatic yearly raises in the past are being paid $12,316. Several are making less if they have rejected at least one previous increase.

As specified in the city code, council members and the mayor receive yearly raises of 3 percent or the percentage change in the consumer price index -- whichever is less. This year, the CPI increase was 2.4 percent, which amounts to a raise of $295 above the base council salary of $12,316.

Five council members, including Chirico, Judith Brodhead, Robert Fieseler, Doug Krause and David Wentz, say they will be accepting the raise. It will start with the check they receive June 27 and take effect retroactive to May 16.

"I don't believe it serves a purpose to turn down the increase other than for some councilmen to feel like they look better than other councilmen," Wentz said. "I feel it's inappropriate to turn down the increase."

Some who will be accepting the raise cite a state law that says "salaries or other compensation shall not be increased or diminished so as to take effect during the term of any officer holding an elective office."

City Manager Doug Krieger said the common interpretation of the law is that elected officials cannot vote to increase their own pay; they can only affect salaries of people who hold the office after the following election. But Fieseler says denying a pay increase runs contrary to the law and his fellow council members "should know better."

"I truly believe even now you shouldn't use your willingness to take one for the team to essentially have a bragging point while you're in office," Fieseler said during a council meeting May 6. "That's why the law exists,"

The automatic salary increase also applies to Mayor George Pradel. He said he will accept the 2.4 percent raise of $650 from his $27,070 salary.

"I think I've worked hard for it," Pradel said. "I give a lot back."

Before the Friday deadline, council members and the mayor also have the option of turning down a $1,200 yearly stipend for cellphone and Internet use. Only Hinterlong said he plans to do that.

"I just don't think it's something we should be capable of having," Hinterlong said.

This is the last year the stipend will be separate from mayor and council member salaries. Beginning after the spring 2015 election, council members will be paid $12,500, which includes $1,000 rolled in from the cellphone and Internet stipend.

The yearly raises of 3 percent or the percentage increase of the CPI will continue for council members and the mayor beginning in 2016. Health insurance will continue to be available if council members or the mayor choose to buy coverage by contributing 20 percent of the premium.

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