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Will Co. elected officials may get pay raise

Bonfire forest.

Bonfire in the forest.

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Updated: May 12, 2014 6:32AM



A Will County Board committee has approved pay raises for the county’s elected officials, but they won’t actually get the money until 2016.

Acting on a motion by board member Steve Wilhelmi, D-Joliet, the board’s executive committee voted 7-4 Thursday to increase board members’ pay by $500 in each of the next four years. Members would not receive the money until 2016, with the pay hikes this year and next held in abeyance until then.

The raises would increase board members’ annual salary to $24,500 in 2016 and $25,000 in 2017, up from the current $23,000.

The executive committee voted 8-3 for raises as of 2016 for the clerk, sheriff and treasurer, posts that are up for election in November.

The county board can only grant raises for elected officials six months or longer before a general election. That means the full board must vote on the plan at its April 17 meeting, unless it calls a special meeting prior to May 4.

Also Thursday, the health and safety committee voted 4-3 to end discussion of a proposed ordinance that would place more restrictions on open burning. The proposal underwent many revisions over many months as board members tried to address the concerns of both rural residents and those who have respiratory illnesses.

All elected officials in the county have had a pay freeze for four years, and if approved, the proposed pay increases would extend that freeze for another two years. By waiting until 2016, the raises would be implemented at the same time for all elected officials, whose terms are staggered, said Wilhelmi, chairman of the board’s finance committee.

Voting against the higher pay for board members were Bob Howard, D-Beecher; Joe Babich, D-Joliet; Tom Weigel, R-New Lenox; and Reed Bible, D-Plainfield. Howard recommended a pay cut instead, saying the money for the raises could be better used, citing the county’s “crumbling infrastructure” and shortage of sheriff’s police.

The three board members in leadership roles — the board speaker and chairmen of the Democratic and Republican caucuses — now get an additional $1,000 per year. The executive committee voted 9-2 to boost the speaker’s stipend to $5,000.

“The speaker’s position is way undercompensated,” said Diane Zigrossi, D-Crest Hill, chair of the Democratic caucus.

Republican caucus chair Jim Moustis, of Frankfort Square, who previously served as speaker, agreed. The GOP caucus strongly opposed the pay raises that were initially proposed — $28,700 for board members and $110,00 for countywide offices, effective in 2014. Moustis later withdrew his motion to keep the salaries the same and supported what he considered to be “modest” increases.

Under the plan approved Thursday, salaries for the county clerk and treasurer would rise from $93,116 now to $97,500 in 2016 and $99,000 in 2017, and the sheriff’s salary would increase from $110,923 to $120,000 in 2017. Voting against that were Howard, Moustis and Chuck Maher, R-Naperville.

If these raises are approved by the full board, similar ones will likely be granted in two years for the county auditor, circuit court clerk, coroner and recorder. Salaries for the state’s attorney and superintendent of schools are set by the state.

As for the open burning issue, the health and safety committee decided that, rather than create a more restrictive ordinance, enforcement of the existing one should increase.

Babich, the committee chairman, said ending consideration of tougher regulations on open burning does not mean the issue is dead, and “it could always come back.” The main issues have been the distance from homes, schools and parks where open burning would be permitted, when it would be allowed and how the ordinance would be enforced.

“If you cannot enforce this (current) ordinance, how are you going to enforce a stricter ordinance?” Moustis asked.

During a public hearing by the committee Thursday, the clash between rural residents and those with respiratory issues surfaced again.

Open burning of yard waste is part of the culture of rural Will County, said residents of Sugar Creek, in unincorporated Joliet Township. They said they have no alternative but to burn because their garbage service does not collect yard waste. And they do not want the burning to be limited to certain times of the year.

Mark Scheidewind, of the Will County Farm Bureau, said farmers fear a burning ban would increase dumping of yard waste on rural roads.

Most of the complaints about the burning have come from unincorporated New Lenox Township. Weigel said he was “disappointed” in the committee’s decision, saying the proposed ordinance should have gone before the full board.



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