Employee bonuses raising questions, ire in Kane County

 
 
Updated 8/19/2016 1:53 PM
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  • The Kane County state's attorney's office and public defender, court services and judiciary departments paid $1.84 million in bonuses from 2012 through 2015, according to county financial records.

    The Kane County state's attorney's office and public defender, court services and judiciary departments paid $1.84 million in bonuses from 2012 through 2015, according to county financial records. BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer, May 2012

At least 43 Kane County employees saw their total compensation rise by more than $11,000 each over the past four years through bonuses, according to county financial records.

The practice of some departments handing out "lump sum payments" at the end of the fiscal year came to light during recent 2017 budget negotiations with department heads.

The so-called bonuses all come from within the department budgets approved each year by the county board. But some board members view the bonuses as money that could be put back into savings.

The county board will ask the four departments within the county's justice system known to pay the bonuses to defend the practice.

County records show the state's attorney's office and public defender, court services and judiciary departments paid $1.84 million in bonuses from 2012 through 2015. That would be enough to fund the entire operation of the county auditor's department for six years.


Who's getting bonuses?

Take a look at the top bonus recipients in Kane County.


The idea of bonuses also has fueled public ire about taxation, despite the county maintaining a frozen property tax levy for the past five years.

"It smacks of having fat in the budget, things that need to be cut out," said Batavia's Glenn Lundgren. He said his homeowner's association is raging over the bonuses.

"We have reached our limit as to what we can absorb as taxes," he said.

Some county board members still are coming to terms with the size of the individual bonus payouts. Some employees received bonuses of as much as $9,000 in a single year.

Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress
Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress

The payouts weren't limited to rank-and-file employees. The highest-paid department heads in court services and the judiciary, and public defender Kelli Childress gave themselves bonuses as well.

"I'm very shocked," said Cristina Castro, who leads the committee that oversees the departments who gave the bonuses. "The amounts are gigantic. But this speaks to the limited control the board has over other elected officials. Once they are handed their budget, they can just go to town."

State's Attorney Joe McMahon has defended the bonuses in light of his office returning $1.8 million of unspent funds to the county's general coffers during his tenure.

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon -

Indeed, McMahon said he does not implement county board-approved raises at the beginning of the fiscal year. Holding off and paying lump sums at the end of the year has been a key factor in keeping his office under budget.

He also has emphasized his legal right to spend the money the county board gives him as he sees fit.

Bonus payments began in the state's attorney's office in 2007, before McMahon's arrival.

Getting similar perspective from other department heads will be key to understanding the need for bonuses going forward, Castro said. But the spotlight needs to shine throughout the county.

"If it's as easy to move money around as these offices have shown, who is to say other offices aren't doing it as well?" Castro said.

Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen
Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen

The direction from county board Chairman Chris Lauzen will be to eliminate such bonuses so the board has a true understanding of the total compensation it is agreeing to whenever new hires are authorized. That's a key consideration as both the state's attorney and public defender's offices want to add to their staffs in 2017.

"This is a department-specific kind of problem that has come up," Lauzen said. "This is not a county policy. I believe that this board is enthusiastic in supporting action to immediately discontinue the practice."

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