As with municipalities throughout the area, the paychecks and perks that go with jobs for elected county board officials vary widely across the region.
Although county board members are expected to log in at least 21 hours of work a week to be eligible for pension benefits, board members in Kane and Will counties make half as much as those in DuPage County.
And in the smaller Kendall County — population 116,000, according to the 2011 U.S. Census report — board members receive a base salary of $2,400 a year, with another $85 for each meeting attended, with chairmen of the Finance Committee and the Planning, Building and Zoning Committee each getting an additional stipend.
In Kane County — population 520,000 — the 24 board members each earn $25,000 and are paid regardless if they attend assigned committee meetings or committees of the whole. In Will County — population 680,000 — the 26 people serving on the board each make $23,000.
In Will, Kane and Kendall, county boards also double as the commission for the Forest Preserve District. In Kane, for example, members meet for these duties before the regularly scheduled county board meeting.
Meanwhile, in neighboring DuPage County, population 920,000, the 18 members of the County Board bring in a base salary of $50,000 for the part-time job.
There is a separate Board of Commissioners of the Forest Preserve District for DuPage County. Each member receives $53,500 annually.
In addition, DuPage’s Forest Preserve District president makes $114,503, plus $38,113 in benefits, which include health insurance, a car and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) pension, which costs the county $13,729 annually.
The salaries for these DuPage boards has not been without controversy in these budget-crunching times.
Recently, the DuPage County Board voted to hold salaries flat for all elected officials for the next two years.
“I’ve been mindful of this debate,” DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin stated of this discussion over what many believe is a well-paid board.
Also, the DuPage Forest Preserve Board had its pay reduced in May 2012 from the previous $56,912 commissioners had been earning each year.
But as was pointed out in last week’s story on city and village paychecks, salary does not always determine the value of a board member.
Kane County Chairman Chris Lauzen says a member may come up with an idea that saves millions of dollars or helps their constituents in a way that far offsets a paycheck.
“It’s impossible to quantify and measure” the value, he added.
Kane County Board member Jesse Vazquez, who has two years left on his second four-year term, pointed out that he and his colleagues are on the clock all the time, meeting with constituents or going to events in their districts.
“We do a lot more for the community, a lot more than we may get credit for,” he said.
The same could be said of board leaders.
Lauzen estimates he works 60 hours a week, including weekends.
“It’s as early as I can get started and as late as I can stay focused,” he said. “It’s really what I enjoy doing.”
Lauzen’s salary is $105,328, which is lower than Cronin’s salary of $126,250 in DuPage and higher than neighboring Will County Executive Lawrence Walsh, who earns $93,500.
Lauzen, who served over two decades as a state senator, receives a pension from the state for his years serving in Springfield; he declined the option for an additional pension from Kane County.
Kane County also saves money by not having a chief of staff or deputy, as DuPage and Will counties have, according to data from Kane County. In DuPage, for example, Chief of Staff Thomas Cuculich makes over $193,000 a year.
“Frankly,” Lauzen said, “I wouldn’t be interested in the job if it (involved) just the political side. It’s just not challenging enough. But, I tell you, the day-to-day operation is a handful.”
In Kendall and Will counties, the chairman also receives a stipend from the state for being the liquor commissioner. Kendall’s John Shaw receives $1,200. Lauzen does not receive this compensation in Kane County. In June, that additional pay — $6,500 for serving as liquor commissioner for DuPage County — was eliminated by Cronin. Also eliminated at that same time was $3,150 to the county clerk for serving as clerk to the liquor commissioner and $15,000 to the county sheriff for serving as county safety director.
Unlike DuPage, Kane and Will, the smaller Kendall County does not elect a separate chairman. Once the 10-member board is seated, those officials choose their own chairman — currently Shaw, who receives a $12,010 yearly salary, and is not supposed to take per diems. The chairman can take mileage to and from approved meetings, or to committee meetings he or she must attend to make a quorum.
By state law, all county board members must be offered health insurance and a pension, and must work a minimum of 21 hours weekly to qualify for benefits. It is up to each board member to decide to take individual or family insurance. Some members choose not to take these perks at all.
Kane County, for example, contributes $1,913 toward a board member’s pension each year. The cost the county pays for insurance for a single person is $5,076, while family coverage is $17,616, according to county data.
While board members don’t itemize their hours worked, those who wish to qualify for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund must sign an affidavit stating they devote no fewer than a certain number of hours annually to the position. In DuPage, that number is 1,000 hours, for example. In Kane County, it is 600 hours.
Overall, Kane County spends $600,000 in salaries alone for the 24-member board. The total compensation costs the county $909,195 per year, including health and dental insurance.
In DuPage County, benefits that include pension and health care increase the budget for compensation about 37 percent.
The pay Kendall County Board members took has been center stage for the past two years, with a complaint-driven investigation that included grand jury subpoenas, a forensic audit and interviews.
The $25,000 audit found that board members had taken per diems for a number of meetings that were questionable. In all, the investigation found $46,000 worth of per diems and mileage reimbursement might have been taken wrongly, most likely in error. Most officials blamed the verification process, so the board adopted new forms to increase accountability.
One way to judge accountability is by looking at the attendance record of board members. But even that is not a perfect measurement.
Kane County Board member Deborah Allan, D-District 17, had a near perfect attendance record between Jan. 1 and July 9 of this year, attending 43 out of 44 scheduled meetings, or 98 percent.
Jesse Vazquez had the lowest attendance, with 28 percent.
Although he has not missed any County Board meetings during that period, he said he started a new career last year that has made it more difficult to attend all his scheduled committee meetings.
He attended all meetings during his first term and sat on high-profile committees, such as the executive committee. He also helped save the county $1.2 million on its insurance program, Vazquez said.
While some board members can devote themselves full-time, as he did in his first four years on the board, Vazquez noted that others have full-time jobs that make it hard to attend every meeting.
“I just have to figure out how to work (committee meetings) into my system,” he said.
By Sun-Times Media staff Steve Lord, Susan Carlman and Denise Crosby and correspondents Gloria Carr and Hank Beckman