DuPage forest commissioners probably won't ax pensions

DuPage County Forest Preserve District commissioners could eliminate their taxpayer-funded pensions by simply declaring their elected jobs don't require them to work at least 1,000 hours a year.

But that appears unlikely to happen because most commissioners insist their $50,000-a-year positions are more than just part-time gigs.

"This job takes more than 1,000 hours to do if you are meeting the expectations of your constituents," Commissioner Tim Whelan said. "There's just a plethora of issues that come up."

The topic of hours was discussed during a Tuesday morning planning session - four months after the board directed district staff to look into ending the participation of commissioners and the board president in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

According to the March resolution, the board "desires to remove the seven elected board positions from IMRF program eligibility, both for current and all future position holders."

IMRF officials, however, said the only way the board can immediately kill the benefit is by passing a resolution saying commissioners and the president no longer meet the hourly standard.

Commissioners aren't required to enroll in IMRF, but once they do, they can't withdraw unless they leave office.

To qualify for the retirement benefit, commissioners and the president must perform at least 1,000 hours of district-related work each year.

Despite unanimous support for the March resolution, Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli on Tuesday was the only board member to voice support for the idea of eliminating the pensions by declaring the elected jobs don't require 1,000 hours to perform.

"It's a good way to end a practice that I think the taxpayers don't support," said Wehrli, who never signed up for the pension.

Forest preserve commissioners are paid $50,000 a year; the president is paid $75,000. They also are eligible to receive medical and dental insurance through the district.

Wehrli said the pensions for elected officials are costing taxpayers more than $34,000 a year.

"I think they appreciate our public service and would like to see us continue without pensions," Wehrli said.

Other commissioners disagreed, adding they haven't heard from constituents opposed to pensions for elected officials.

Commissioner Al Murphy said he works at least 1,000 hours a year because he monitors construction projects in his district and frequently meets with residents.

"I know I put in a lot of time," he said.

Al Murphy is one of five commissioners enrolled in IMRF. The others are Whelan, Jeff Redick, Marsha Murphy and Linda Painter.

Redick, Painter and Marsha Murphy already are eligible for an IMRF pension - and will receive it regardless of whether the district does away with the perk. Whelan and Al Murphy are not yet vested.

Forest preserve President Joe Cantore withdrew from IMRF when he became president in December 2014 but will receive a pension from his years as a commissioner, according to IMRF.

No formal action was taken by the board on Tuesday. The forest preserve has until Sept. 1 to notify IMRF that the commissioner and president positions meet the 1,000-hour requirement to qualify for a pension.

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