Will County officials are considering a plan in which they may opt out of their participation in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, in the wake of a new law that bans newly elected board members from the state pension program.
Members of the county board’s executive committee voted to recommend a resolution eliminating the IMRF pension for all county board members, effective Nov. 30. It’s expected to be voted on by the full board at its Sept. 15 meeting
“People should not be coming here to get a pension,” said board member Mike Fricilone, who made the motion to drop the pension benefit, saying Will County should take the lead on this issue.
Currently, county officials reported that 17 of the county’s 26 board members participate in the IMRF pension program and the county pays 11.6 percent of a member’s annual salary of $23,000 into the IMRF. Members pay 4.5 percent of their paychecks, according to the IMRF.
The new law, Senate Bill 2701, disqualifies newly elected part-time county board members from receiving pension benefits through the IMRF, but allows those currently in the program to remain.
The law is designed to gradually eliminate all county board members from the pension system.
Currently, 45 of the state’s 102 counties participate in the IMRF, with a total of less than 300 county board members, out of a total of 174,000 active members, according to John Krupa, IMRF spokesman.
If Will County no longer wants to participate, it needs to rescind its resolution stating that board members will meet the hourly standards, and notify IMRF, he said.
The legislation initially proposed banning municipal and township officials from the IMRF as well, but they were removed from the final bill.
According to assistant state’s attorney Mary Tatroe, it does not apply to full-time countywide seats, such as county executive, county clerk, state’s attorney, county sheriff and coroners.
Members who were enrolled before January 2011 needed eight years to become vested, now it is 10 years. If the county opts out of IMRF, vested members would not lose what they invested, but would accrue nothing more.
Will County board members were always required to work 600 hours per year, but now they must submit monthly reports documenting their hours. If reports are not submitted for two consecutive months, members are no longer eligible for the pension, Tatroe said.
Senate Bill 2701 was a joint effort by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and state Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, and the IMRF after Franks called for an investigation in March to determine if McHenry County board members were in violation of IMRF policy by not working or documenting their required 1,000 hours per year. McHenry County has since opted out of the IMRF.
Franks is giving up his House seat to run for McHenry County Board chairman in November.
Calling it a “political smackdown” by the legislature to “get back at one county,” Republican leader Chuck Maher, R-Naperville, said that state legislators should look at pensions across the board and not just focus on one group.
“We have seen the state go downhill in the last several years with pensions being a huge issue,” he said. “Make sure you get the entire state under control.”
“I don’t think any elected official on the local level should get a pension,” said board member Suzanne Hart. “But I want to prove that this is not a part-time job.”
Democratic leader Herb Brooks opposed eliminating the pension program.
“I do feel we put in a lot of time with the county board, but I never looked at this as a perk,” he said.
Some executive committee members were leery of eliminating the pension benefit Nov. 30, saying some people may have counted on that for retirement.
“I don’t want to pull the rug out on people,” said board member Don Moran, D-Romeoville.
Board member Gretchen Fritz urged her colleagues to “consider the total impact,” noting that because they spend so much time on county business, it is difficult to have a full-time job that offers such benefits.
Ray Tuminello, R-New Lenox, suggested the pension benefits end with their terms, instead of Nov. 30.
In the November election, 18 of the 26 county board seats will be up for election, with newly elected officials taking office in early December.
Board member Bob Howard wanted to take this a step further and eliminate all benefits, including health care, for elected board members.
Board speaker Jim Moustis said he has previously argued against pay raises for county board because they receive these other benefits and that is a form of compensation.
According to Krupa, if Will County decides not to participate, those who are vested can begin receiving their pension. If they are not vested, they can request a refund of their contributions, or keep them on file with the IMRF. Should they later participate in another IMRF-qualifying position, they could count their service with the county toward a future pension, he said.