McHenry County Board members offer up IMRF pension alternative for elected officials

WOODSTOCK – A pair of McHenry County Board members have put together a proposal encouraging countywide elected officials to enroll in private retirement plans rather than plans through the state’s pension system.

Developed by board members John Reinert and James Kearns, the plan would offer elected officials in nine county offices the opportunity to enroll in a deferred compensation plan with a one-to-one contribution match – but only if they do not participate in the $35.8 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

The plan follows on the heels of a proposal from McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks that aimed to altogether end IMRF participation for the County Board chairman, state’s attorney, county clerk, circuit clerk, treasurer, auditor, recorder, coroner and sheriff. The county’s coroner, recorder and sheriff already have opted out of receiving pensions.

Although the pension debate has been a hot-button topic at recent County Board meetings, some board members worried that cutting the pensions of elected officials would be a problem in the courts.

“The County Board led the way when it decided last year to eliminate its own IMRF pensions, but state law currently prevents us from taking the next logical step and eliminating it for countywide officeholders,” County Board member John Reinert, R-Crystal Lake, said in a statement.

The latest proposal, set to appear before the Human Resources Committee on Tuesday morning, gives elected officials the option to enroll in a 457 deferred compensation plan – a retirement plan for government employees that is similar to a 401(k) plan. The county would provide a one-to-one contribution match that would not exceed $8,000 a year.

The proposal would allow officials to be more proactive about their savings, Kearns said.

“It takes a decade of service to become eligible for IMRF – for a countywide elected official, that means getting elected and then re-elected twice,” Kearns said in a statement. “This plan gives future elected officials the more sensible option of being able to immediately save for their retirement.”

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.

In February 2016, Franks asked the IMRF to open an investigation into whether County Board members were working the required 1,000 hours a year to quality for pensions. The IMRF could not find evidence to conclude whether County Board members worked enough hours to get pensions.

Franks said the proposal from Reinert and Kearns offers a “common-sense alternative” to help right the state’s ballooning pension problem.

“Lawmakers intended IMRF to provide retirement security for rank-and-file employees making a career out of civil service,” Franks said in a statement, “not for politicians elected to four-year terms.”

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