McHenry County Board to vote on keeping pay for its members the same

Board members currently receive a $21,000 salary and benefits

A pay increase for McHenry County Board members will not be on the table at the next County Board meeting next week despite earlier discussions about raising the board’s pay.

A proposal to keep the board’s pay and benefits the same as it is now – an annual salary of $21,000 and optional benefits, including health insurance – was advanced by the County Board’s administrative services committee a 5-2 vote on Sept. 8. It will be discussed at Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting before a possible vote is taken by the full board next Tuesday.

The resolution’s recommendation last week followed a debate by board members at the August board meeting about a possible pay increase tied to inflation and the board’s reduced size beginning with the November 2022 election.

“If you want diversity on the board and not just a bunch of retired public sector people with free insurance, the salary and insurance of the board should stay the same,” said board member Jeff Schwartz, R-McHenry, who spoke during the public comment period.

Board members floated several ideas last month about how to approach their salaries for the next decade. The board is asked to reevaluate their salary and benefits every 10 years.

An inflation-based increased would be about a 3% raise, Deputy County Administrator Scott Hartman last month.

“You can look at it two ways: the equivalent value of $21,000 then [in the future] would be approximately $23,000 now, or $21,000 then only buys you $19,000 now,” Hartman said.

The board’s size will also be reduced from 24 members to 18 board members, which some argued would create more work for members and justify a salary increase. Members also debated if being on the board was a full-time or part-time responsibility. The board does not have an official designation as either.

“I think we need to do a better job of letting people know exactly what it is we are making,” said board member Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry. “I would concur it’s not a full-time or a part-time. It’s a corporate board. We are elected to make significant decisions and whether it takes us five minutes if that’s all you want to put in or seven hours at a time, it’s certainly each individual member’s choice how they want to represent the people that elected them to this position.”

The timing of a possible pay raise was also an issue for some board members, who pointed to those who lost their jobs and income during the pandemic.

“This is a bad time, the optics are bad for us to even have this kind of discussion surrounding compensation as well as benefit packages,” said board member Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, who also spoke during the public comment period.

Board members are able to receive health insurance if they wish, which some members argue is unnecessary or unfair to the county’s part-time employees who don’t receive insurance.

“My constituents have reached out to me, and they want no increases in compensation and they want no benefits to the County Board members,” Yensen said.

Board member Kay Bates, R-McHenry, cautioned health insurance can be a positive recruiting tool for the board and members should keep the future in mind instead of reacting to their current experiences.

“I really believe that this benefit or part of the compensation package can be a positive for us to retain as well as attract new board members of quality and people we believe are very engaged in the community,” Bates said.

The county currently spends $504,000 on the salaries of its 24 members. If the resolution to keep pay at $21,000 is approved for the new 18-member board, the county will save $126,000 on salary alone.

For comparison, Lake County Board members receive $43,018 annually, according to Daily Herald reports, while Kane County Board members receive $25,000 each year.