Local Government

Illinois bill to end IMRF pensions for future county board members headed to governor's desk

McHenry County Board starting process to remove itself voluntarily

A bill that would end pensions for future county board members and require those now in the system to prove their working hours is headed to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk.

And a resolution to end the McHenry County Board’s participation in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund altogether will work its way through the board starting Thursday.

Senate Bill 2701, which cleared the House and Senate in the final hours of the spring legislative session Tuesday, would disqualify future candidates elected to county boards from participating in IMRF. Existing board members already enrolled – the Illinois Constitution forbids altering their benefits – will have to fill out time sheets to prove that they are working the minimum hours required, either 600 or 1,000 hours a year, to qualify.

The bill as originally filed by state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, created the time sheet requirement in response to an ongoing IMRF investigation of the McHenry County Board’s work hours instigated by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo. But Franks, who is running for County Board chairman, amended the law to end pensions altogether for members elected after the bill becomes law.

“Public dollars need to be spent on critical services, schools and infrastructure improvements, not on generous pensions for part-time board members,” Franks said. “We need to protect local taxpayers and the integrity of the IMRF, which is the best-run public pension fund in the state, from having their money siphoned off by elected officials who are gaming the system.”

Althoff said she was OK with Franks’ change because a number of county boards in the wake of the IMRF audit aimed at the McHenry County Board are examining whether to end pension participation on their own.

The McHenry County Board will start the process Thursday morning, when its Human Resources Committee is scheduled to take up and vote on a measure to eliminate IMRF for existing members as well as new ones effective with the Dec. 1 swearing in of the new board following the Nov. 8 election.

A formal vote later this month by the McHenry County Board would end the accumulation of IMRF credit for the board’s 24 members, but cannot do so retroactively. Members who already are vested, meaning they served the minimum number of years to get a pension, will still get one upon reaching retirement age. Members who are not vested will not lose the credit they have accumulated to date, meaning it can be applied toward a pension if they take a government job that is IMRF-eligible.

Franks earlier this year touched off a political firestorm when he asked the IMRF to investigate whether McHenry County Board members, all but a few of whom are enrolled in IMRF, are working the required 1,000 hours a year to qualify for pensions. State law sets a 600-hour standard, but allows local governments to set a higher 1,000-hour standard, which the McHenry County Board did in 1997.

The IMRF’s policy manual states that barring “highly unusual circumstances,” officials elected to county, township or municipal boards that have imposed the 1,000-hour threshold – which averages out to 20 hours a week for 50 weeks – will not qualify for pensions.

Upon receiving the legislation, Rauner has 60 days to sign it or veto it before it automatically becomes law. The Republican governor ran on a platform of pension reform and reining in state and local government spending.

Time sheets of elected county board members are public records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act under the bill.

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