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Lake Co. board members may get 16 percent raises
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/9/2008 12:06 PM | Updated: 5/9/2008 7:16 PM

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If the mood of a Friday-morning discussion is any indication, Lake County Board members are on their way to boosting their salaries by more than 16 percent over the next four years.

Seven board members informally backed the proposal during a committee-of-the-whole meeting at the transportation division headquarters in Libertyville. Two others voiced support for the plan at a finance committee meeting last week.

That brings the number of public supporters to nine, just three shy of the 12 votes needed for approval if all 23 members attend Tuesday's monthly board meeting in Waukegan.

Only two commissioners vocally opposed the plan Friday, repeating objections they made at last week's finance committee discussion.

Several commissioners in the room Friday were silent on the issue or made comments that didn't reveal their opinions.

Salaries for county board members and other elected county officials are set every two years.

The plan calls for 4 percent raises in each of the next two years and 3.75 percent raises in the following two years.

The move would bring the typical board member's salary to $44,074 by 2012, up from $37,856 now.

The board chairman, whose salary is double that of any other member's, would get 4 percent raises in each of the next two years under the plan. Only those two years are included.

Supporting the proposed raises Friday were board Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt of Lake Villa, Bonnie Thomson Carter of Ingleside, Audrey Nixon of North Chicago, Steve Carlson of Gurnee, Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan, Michael Talbett of Lake Zurich, and Pam Newton of Long Grove.

Newton tried to minimize the importance of the proposed raise by saying it's a "cost-of-living adjustment" and not merit-based.

Carlson said elected officials should be properly compensated for their work to encourage "normal people" to run for office. Otherwise, he said, only a certain class of people can afford to run.

Although technically a part-time post, the job also takes up a lot more time than many members expect when they're elected, he said.

The lone opponents Friday were Brent Paxton of Zion and Bob Sabonjian of Waukegan.

Paxton has said he feels board members already are well paid. Sabonjian has criticized the plan because it comes during tough economic times.

But those economic constraints -- high prices for gasoline and home energy, to name two -- also exist for the county board members, Schmidt said.

"We have to live, too," said Schmidt, whose annual salary would increase to $81,890 by 2010 under the plan. Schmidt also stands to receive a new $3,000 annual stipend for her work as liquor commissioner if the plan passes.

In a separate but related measure, the board is considering pay raises for three elected officials who serve the entire county. The circuit court clerk, coroner and recorder of deeds would receive the same 4 percent and 3.75 percent raises, bringing each of their salaries to $125,924 by 2012.

Sabonjian suggested giving the three countywide officials raises the first two years to keep their salaries in line with those of the county clerk, schools superintendent and treasurer, who already are set to receive pay hikes next year and in 2010. Their salaries should be frozen afterward, he said.

Although the proposed raises have generated a bit of public controversy and have been local talk-radio fodder, only one area resident criticized the plan at Friday's meeting.