The subject of elected city official salaries and benefits brought intense discussion among council members Tuesday.

“I've been in office 15 years,” said Commissioner Alan Harris. “I'm making the same money I made 15 years ago. I don't know of anybody sitting in this room making the same money they made 15 years ago.”

Harris believes commissioners should receive the same salary increases as other city employees who received a 2.5 percent salary increase last year. Currently, city commissioners receive $10,000 per year in compensation, with the mayor earning $16,000. Any change in salary would not go into effect until after the next municipal election. A new council term is set for May 1, 2015.

Mayor Merv Gillenwater expressed his interest in saving the city money by eliminating health care benefits.

Gillenwater suggested future commissioners not receive benefits, noting part-time employees of the city do not receive health insurance.

Harris disagreed with the mayor.

“You get lifetime insurance through the state that every person in this room helps pay for. Let's take that away. The next time that a cop gets hired, let's not give him benefits.”

Gillenwater said the benefits he received after 25 years as an investigator for the Illinois State Police were for his full-time employment. He added that recommending the proposed change only go into effect for future council members was a compromise.

“I'm not trying to take yours away,” he said to Harris.

“You are making this rather personal, and I didn't intend it that way,” said Gillenwater.

Harris, however, indicated he will not be seeking re-election.

“The next guy that sits in this chair is going to earn it as well,” said Harris of the health benefits.

Harris contended being a commissioner is more than a part-time job and said doing away with health care benefits “won't pass on my vote.”

Commissioner Don Althoff, who along with Harris receives health benefits from the city, said the benefits make the elected position more desirable.

“I believe this is a tool to get good people to run,” he said.

Milleville, who does not participate in the city's health plan, believes making an exception for current council members sends the wrong message.

“Either do away with it or don't do away with it,” said Milleville. “We can't grandfather people in. That's how the general assembly and congress exempts themselves from law and before you know it, nobody is applicable to the law.”

Gillenwater said taking insurance from current council members might lead to hardship in the future.

“I don't think we can compare ourselves to that,” he said. “I think it would be a disservice to those who have served on the council for years and have come to rely on insurance to now take it away from them.”

Commissioner Matt Hirtzel, who receives health care through his job with the state, sees a financial benefit to ending health insurance benefits for council members. Hirtzel figured the amount it would cost the city over his four-year term to insure his wife and children would be approximately $60,000.

“Three years ago I stated when I was running that I would like to see retirement benefits and insurance go away,” said Hirtzel. “I haven’t really changed that view since then.”

Gillenwater said the compensation and health benefits issue will likely be brought back to the council.

Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, at tony.huffman@effinghamdailynews.com or on Twitter @ednthuffman.

 

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