Local Government

McHenry County Board committee OKs plan to end IMRF pension participation

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee unanimously recommended ending participation for elected members in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

The Human Resources Committee on a 7-0 vote Thursday morning backed a resolution to not only eliminate IMRF as a benefit for newly elected members, but also to cease participation for existing ones. The resolution, if approved by the full County Board later this month, will take effect with the Dec. 1 start of the next county fiscal year, just before the new County Board getting sworn in after the Nov. 8 election.

The proposal comes in the wake of an ongoing investigation by the IMRF as to whether County Board members, most of whom are enrolled in the system, are working the minimum 1,000 hours a year necessary. It also comes days after Illinois lawmakers sent the governor a bill that would end pensions for future county board members statewide.

Committee members amended the resolution to apply to the County Board chairman, who starting with this year’s election will be popularly elected by the voters. Member Don Kopsell, R-Crystal Lake, voted no, stating that the chairmanship is a full-time job that should come with a pension.

County Board members who already are enrolled will keep their credit they have accumulated to date – the Illinois Constitution forbids altering pension benefits already accrued. Members who are already vested, meaning they served the minimum number of years to get an IMRF 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 if they take a government job that is IMRF-eligible.

Government officials and employees who enrolled in IMRF before 2011 require eight years to be vested. The minimum increased to 10 years in 2011 as part of a pension reform package approved by state lawmakers. Eight County Board members have served long enough to be vested. Several others, such as Kopsell and Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills, are vested through previous township and municipal jobs.

Two new County Board members – Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, and Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake – voluntarily rejected IMRF participation upon taking office.

It is not known whether the County Board’s voluntary withdrawal from IMRF will end the investigation – the agency is asking board members to produce records going back 18 months to prove their work hours. The fund’s rules state that officials elected to county, township and municipal governments that have adopted a 1,000-hour standard, like the McHenry County Board, will not meet that threshold, barring “highly unusual circumstances.”

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, earlier this year asked IMRF to investigate whether County Board members are working the required hours. Franks, who last month announced his run for County Board chairman against Republican nominee Michael Walkup, also wrote the language in Senate Bill 2701 that would end IMRF participation for all future county board members statewide.

Franks said Thursday that the reform effort would not have taken place had it not been for his legislative effort.

“There was never any intention by the county to do anything until I exposed their actions and the fact that they had not been following the regulations for almost two decades,” Franks said.

Walkup, a County Board member from Crystal Lake, told the committee that he would like to see the IMRF ban expanded to officials elected to countywide office, provided the county has the legal power to do so. At the very least, the ban would not affect the regional superintendent of schools, whose pension is drawn from the state-run Teacher Retirement System.

The resolution will go to the Management Services Committee for a recommendation on June 13, and the County Board is expected to vote on the matter June 21.

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