WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board passed a resolution Tuesday night to approve an alternative for countywide elected officials who wish to opt out of the $35.8 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
Approved with a 23-0 vote, the resolution creates a plan that 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 IMRF.
The plan, developed by board members John Reinert and James Kearns, comes on the heels of a proposal from McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks that aimed to end IMRF participation for the County Board chairman, state’s attorney, county clerk, circuit clerk, treasurer, auditor, recorder, coroner and sheriff. The county coroner, recorder and sheriff already have opted out of receiving pensions.
Reinert said the biggest benefit of the alternative is the money it would save the county and state.
"We haven't done an actuary test on it, but the IMRF for a typical [official] costs about $11,000 a year per person," Reinert said. "If they collect that pension for 40 years, the IMRF would be paying them for all those years. With this, we're done."
Reinert hopes other leaders across the state will see McHenry County's work on alleviating pension debt as an example and start their own campaigns.
"Pensions are the biggest drain on the Illinois economy," Reinert said. "If we could get this to grow statewide, we could really go far."
Although the pension debate has been a hot-button topic at recent County Board meetings, some board members worry that cutting elected officials' pensions would be a problem in the courts.
The pension resolution gives elected officials the option to enroll in a 457 deferred compensation plan – a retirement plan for government employees that is similar to a private 401(k) plan – starting Jan. 1. The county would provide a one-to-one contribution match that would not exceed $8,000 a 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.
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 called the resolution a “common-sense alternative” to help right the state’s ballooning pension problem.
HOW THEY VOTED
Yes: Christopher Spoerl, Robert Nowak, Thomas Wilbeck, Joe Gottemoller, Donald Kopsell, Chris Christensen, Kay Rial Bates, Paula Yensen, Michael Skala, John Jung Jr., Michele Aavang, James Kearns, Larry Smith, Yvonne Barnes, Donna Kurtz, Jeffrey Thorsen, John Reinert, Michael Walkup, John Hammerand, Craig Wilcox, Chuck Wheeler, Michael Rein and James Heisler.
Absent: Mary McCann.