Lake County committee recommends freezing pay over some objections
A plan to freeze the salaries of three Lake County elected officials for four years because of the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic moved forward Thursday despite their objections.
The Lake County Board's financial and administrative committee recommended freezing the annual pay of the coroner, recorder of deeds and circuit court clerk at the current amount, $127,874.
All three posts are up for election in November. State law requires county officials' salaries be set six months before they take office.
The Lake County state's attorney is up for election this fall, too, but that position's pay is covered by the state.
If approved by the county board, the freezes will mean those three officials no longer will paid the same as the county treasurer and clerk.
The committee also recommended a two-year salary freeze for the seven county board seats on November's ballot.
All but Chairwoman Sandy Hart earn $43,018 a year. Hart collects a $107,408 salary because of her post's extra responsibilities. However, under the committee's proposal, the chair's overall pay would drop to $104,408 in each of the next two years because of the proposed elimination of a stipend for being the county's liquor commissioner. Hart requested the cut.
The committee will review a formal resolution April 30, and the board could vote on the proposal May 12.
Thursday's committee meeting was held remotely due to the statewide stay-at-home order.
Recorder Mary Ellen Vanderventer, Circuit Court Clerk Erin Cartwright Weinstein and Coroner Howard Cooper lobbied for two-year freezes and raises in the 2023 and 2024 fiscal years that would equalize their pay with the clerk and treasurer.
Vanderventer noted the poor timing of the state-mandated pay review in light of the COVID-19 crisis. She called the situation "very uncomfortable."
"We completely understand the circumstances of our county and our country," the Waukegan Democrat said.
Cartwright Weinstein said the American economy has taken about two years to recover after other crises, including the 1918 flu pandemic, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession that began in December 2007. She called a four-year freeze inappropriate.
"Every time an elected official's salary is frozen, they can never recover," said Cartwright Weinstein, a Gurnee Democrat.
But that argument didn't get much traction with the committee.
In supporting a four-year freeze, committee member Jennifer Clark said she's hopeful the economy will turn around within two years but added that she "can't make a decision on hope."
Clark said she's haunted by the thought that a county employee might have to be laid off so the county can afford raises for these three elected officials.
"I just cannot do it," said Clark, a Libertyville Democrat.
Committee member John Wasik, a Grayslake Democrat, said he can't support raises while the nation is experiencing record unemployment.
Committee member Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican, said he doesn't want to see a newspaper headline announcing county budget cuts while elected officials are getting raises.
Only two of the committee's seven members -- Democrat Terry Wilke of Round Lake Beach and Republican Linda Pedersen of Antioch -- supported limiting pay freezes to two years.
Salaries for county clerk, treasurer and sheriff were set two years ago.
The county clerk and treasurer are set to make $127,874 this fiscal year, $131,071 in the 2021 fiscal year and $134,348 in the 2022 fiscal year.
The sheriff, who traditionally is paid more than other countywide elected officials, is set to receive $162,558 in total compensation this year. His pay will increase to $166,509 in the 2021 fiscal year and to $170,560 in the 2022 fiscal year.