Time for a raise? McHenry County Board considering pay hike for members
As McHenry County administrators begin work on the fiscal year 2021-22 budget, county board members have been asked to evaluate how much the county spends on their salaries and benefits, and whether they should receive a salary increase.
The county board sets pay every 10 years to go along with the redrawing of county board districts following the Census. This year's budget for board member salaries and benefits comes with an extra twist: Beginning with the November 2022 election, the board will be reduced from 24 members to 18 members.
County board members currently receive $21,000 a year, along with additional benefits should they choose to take them. One of the key debates is how much board members should be paid for their work, and how losing six board members will impact overall expenses.
County Chief Financial Officer Kevin Bueso said the $21,000 salary set in 2012 is worth about $2,000 less now because of inflation.
"You can look at it two ways: The equivalent value of $21,000 then would be approximately $23,000 now, or $21,000 then only buys you $19,000 now," he told board members last week.
Some board members believe the salary should be kept the same to save the county money. Others say it is worth considering a salary increase because the reduction of board members allows for them to hike pay without increasing costs.
"We haven't had a raise for some time, but we're moving to fewer county board members," said Paula Yensen, a Democrat from Lake in the Hills. "What are the committees going to be like and what is that workload going to be? And since there's going to be fewer people on the county board, to me, hypothetically, that means more work for many of us based on the committee assignments."
Several members were concerned about what kind of message it would send to taxpayers if they voted to increase salaries.
"It probably would be a message to our constituents if we keep our salaries flat that we are taking into consideration their personal experiences and possibly where they are with their employment situations," said Pamela Althoff, a McHenry Republican.
The board currently spends $504,000 on salaries for 24 board members. If salaries are kept at $21,000, reducing the board's size to 18 members would save the county $126,000 a year. However, 18 board members could be paid up to $28,000 annually to keep spending at $504,000.
McHenry County Board members currently make about half as much as Lake County Board members, who receive $43,018 annually. Kane County Board members receive $25,000 a year and also are considering a salary increase.
Also at question is whether board members should receive benefits.
"We've always talked about ourselves as being a part-time board, never a full-time board," Yensen said. "I have a hard time offering health care benefits to county board members when we don't even offer that to part-time employees."
But Jim Kearns, a Republican from Huntley, said the only people who could afford to serve as county board members if benefits are taken away would be retirees.
"You won't have the people that want to work," Kearns said.
The board has until the end of November to make a decision about their salary and benefits before the new fiscal year begins on Dec. 1.