McHenry County Board to consider pay increase for themselves
As McHenry County administrators begin work on the fiscal 2021-22 budget, county board members have been asked to evaluate how much the county spends on their salaries and benefits, including a possible salary increase.
The county board is asked consider how much they are paid every 10 years to go with the redrawing of county board districts after the census. This year's budget for board member salaries and benefits comes with an extra twist, however. Beginning with the November 2022 election, the board will be reduced from 24 members to 18, which the board approved in September 2018.
County board members receive an annual salary of $21,000 and 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 the overall expense.
The board last set its salary in December 2012 and county Chief Financial Officer Kevin Bueso said the $21,000 salary 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 said the salary should be kept the same to save the county money. Others said it is worth considering a salary increase because the reduction of the number of board members allows for them to increase their salary 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 message it would send to taxpayers if they voted to increase their own salaries.
"It probably would be a message to our constituents if we keep our salaries flat that we taking into consideration their personal experiences and possibly where they are with their employment situations," said Pamela Althoff, a Republican from McHenry.
Raising the annual salary for board members to $23,000 would keep current salaries in line with inflation, Bueso said. However, they have more room to work with if the goal is to keep spending flat.
The board currently spends $504,000 on salaries for 24 board members. If salary spending is kept flat at $21,000 for each member annually, reducing the board's size to 18 members would save the county $126,000 annually on salary expenses. However, 18 board members could be paid up to $28,000 annually to keep spending on salaries flat at $504,000.
"McHenry County has some of the highest taxes in the entire country," said Tanya Jindrich, a Democrat from Crystal Lake. "We're tasked several times with lowering our taxes, not increasing or keeping them the same, or when we have an opportunity with less board members, somehow benefit ourselves."
McHenry County Board members make about half as much as those in Lake County. Lake County Board members receive $43,018 annually, according to Daily Herald records. Kane County Board members receive $25,000 each year and also are considering a salary increase.
Also at question is what board members should receive in benefits, if anything. Some board members receive benefits while others do not, with the amount varying between each.
"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."
Board members are at odds if they should receive benefits and what would happen if benefits are not offered.
Jim Kearns, a Republican from Huntley, said the only people who could afford to become county board members if benefits are taken away would be retired people.
"We are paying for a portion of those benefits and we are equivalent to the employees in the rest of the county. I don't feel a current board member, or any future board member, should take a cut in pay," he said.
Theresa Meshes, a Democrat from Fox River Grove, said she was unaware of the salary and benefits when she ran for the board, but said the sometimes demanding and odd hours make it hard for some board members to hold another job and receive important benefits like health insurance. However, she said the benefits should be reflective of how much board members work.
"If we're going to give ourselves benefits like we're full-time employees, then I think we need to show that we're working to deserve those benefits. Even on my best, most hard-working week, I don't put in 40 hours," Meshes said.
Several suggestions were made to better track the number of hours board members work and compensate members for how many hours they work, including time sheets and prorated benefits.
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. With about three months to make a decision, board members say they need to make an informed decision.