Friday 20th April 2018

Illinois county aims to wean pensions from newly-elected officials

Illinois county aims to wean pensions from newly-elected officials

FILE - Old McHenry County (IL) courthouse
The old McHenry County courthouse and jail in Woodstock, Illinois. (Carldaniel | Wikimedia via Creative Commons)

ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

A northern Illinois county is doing what it can to get out from under the public pension system officials say has been squeezing their budgets for years.

The McHenry County Board decided last year that it would no longer offer Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pensions to its new members. Now the board is looking to wean countywide elected officials such as the sheriff, clerk and others off of the defined-benefit plan as well.

The newest proposal would give a 401k-style retirement plan to any new elected officials but only if they pass on the pension.

Specifically, the plan would offer elected officials enrollment in a 457 deferred compensation plan. If they enroll on the condition of pledging not to participate in IMRF, the county will provide a one-to one contribution match not to exceed $8,000 a year. The maximum contribution allowed by the IRS to 457 plans will be $18,500 for participants younger than 50, and $24,500 for participants age 50 and older. That’s for 2018, and the number changes annually.

“When they’re done, we’re done,” said board member John Reinert, who crafted the plan with another on the board. “Taxpayers can no longer afford to offer lifelong retirement plans.”

Pension obligations, Reinert said, are continually a problem come budget time.

Reinert is running for state senate next year.

The board previously tried to scrap the pensions for newly elected officials completely but learned that state law forbade that.

The offices of County Board Chairman, State’s Attorney, County Clerk, Circuit Clerk, Treasurer, Auditor, Recorder, Coroner and Sheriff would all be affected. The local superintendent would not since its pension comes from the Teachers Retirement Fund.

County Board Chairman Jack Franks, as well as the coroner, sheriff and recorder, have all refused a pension plan.

The IMRF has long been complimented as a model for other pension funds in that it’s better funded than others. What’s often left out of that conversation is that Illinois law requires local governments to give their required IMRF contributions precedent over any other expense, including core services and other pension plans that are likely less funded.

If approved, the plan would be available to elected officials sworn into office as of Dec. 1, 2018.

Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for INN. Lauterbach has managed and produced shows for news/talk radio stations in both Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

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