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McHenry County Board talks Chairman Jack Franks' resolution to kill pensions

H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com 
McHenry County Board member Joseph Gottemoller (left) and chairman Jack Franks talk before the start of the committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, supports a move to cut pensions, claiming it's a long-term expense the county can not afford. If the resolution passes in McHenry County, other governments could follow suit, he said.
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com McHenry County Board member Joseph Gottemoller (left) and chairman Jack Franks talk before the start of the committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, supports a move to cut pensions, claiming it's a long-term expense the county can not afford. If the resolution passes in McHenry County, other governments could follow suit, he said.

WOODSTOCK – Although McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks has touted majority support of his resolution to kill pensions for all countywide elected officials, some board members shared disapproval of the movement at a meeting Thursday.

County Board member Donna Kurtz called Franks’ resolution to kill pensions nothing more than “politicizing.”

“The idea that we’re going to spark a revolution in Springfield. Give me a break,” Kurtz said at the Committee of the Whole meeting. “We just heard the chairman, who spent 18 years down there, calling it a dysfunctional freak show. Apparently, he couldn’t get anything changed with pensions. So now we’re bringing it back to our county, and our county is the one who’s going to bear the brunt.”

Set to appear before the County Board on Tuesday, Franks’ resolution would remove Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund eligibility for the offices of County Board chairman, state’s attorney, county clerk, circuit clerk, treasurer, auditor, recorder, coroner and sheriff. The move would not affect the position until the end of their terms.

The county’s coroner, recorder and sheriff already have opted out of receiving pensions.

The resolution is nothing against any elected official in particular, the chairman said. It’s about saving money, he said. Cutting pensions for newly elected officials in those positions would save the county money: $110,000 a year based on current officeholder’s salaries, Franks said.

“I think we can do this,” Franks said. “I think we must do this.”

Resolutions cutting pensions aim to make public servants feel bad about taking pension benefits, a move that is “villainizing” elected officials, Kurtz said.

Board member Craig Wilcox called Kurtz’s comments “ludicrous” and came prepared to Thursday’s meeting with an alternative solution to Franks’ recent resolution to kill pensions for most countywide elected officials, who still have the choice to contribute to a 457 plan – a deferred-compensation retirement plan available to government workers.

The resolution he plans to bring to the board next week describes a two-tiered salary structure for future elected officials that would protect their pensions and give them the choice to enroll in IMRF or not.

Elected officials who chose to enroll in IMRF would receive a lower salary. Those who strike their IMRF eligibility would get a higher salary, Wilcox said.

Wilcox said the two-tiered system would offset costs burdening taxpayers.

While Kurtz stood by her opinion that killing pensions is problematic and not good for government, other board members supported the resolution – and the discussion of alternatives.

“This is not about villainizing,” District 3 representative Chris Christensen said. “You cannot tax your way out of this problem.”

County Board member Joe Gottemoller, a District 3 representative, supported the move to cut pensions, claiming it’s a long-term expense the county can’t afford. If the resolution passes in McHenry County, other governments could follow suit, he said.

“We need that discussion to start,” Gottemoller said.

But District 4 representative John Hammerand said the pension fight is one that should be sorted out in Springfield.

“I think the state should be taking this up,” Hammerand said, adding there’s a legal risk in cutting pensions. “It seems to me we need a lot of state’s attorneys’ opinions.”

Franks brushed off the idea.

“We can’t wait for Springfield,” Franks said. “They are a dysfunctional freak show.”

The chairman said he’s confident the pension issue would never make it to a court. Besides, he said, a state’s attorney’s opinion is not binding and does not rule out what a judge would say in such a case, which has never before entered a courtroom.

“This would be a case of first impression,” Franks said. “We already do have a precedent. We did the exact same thing last year.”

In June 2016, all 24 members of the McHenry County Board voted to end participation in the IMRF for themselves and those elected after them. The resolution not only eliminated eligibility for new members on Dec. 1, but also the accumulation of credit for pensions for existing members, including the chairman.

Franks’ new resolution to kills pensions has met resistance inside IMRF offices.

On Oct. 2, IMRF Executive Director Louis Kosiba wrote a letter to Franks saying the cancellation of pensions “will not help achieve the good government you seek.”

“...disqualifying these positions from IMRF can be detrimental to good government,” Kosiba wrote. “If you believe these nine positions should not receive a pension through IMRF, then I think your only resort is to seek a legislative change.”

Kurtz mentioned the letter at Tuesday’s meeting, asking why it was never passed around to board members. Franks said that Kosiba is retiring in less than two months and his opinion might not matter.

“Whoever takes his place may have a vastly different view of this situation,” Franks said.

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