19 Lake Co. board members refuse raises; 4 still in line for pay hikes

  • Audrey Nixon

    Audrey Nixon

  • Mary Ross Cunningham

    Mary Ross Cunningham

  • Angelo Kyle

    Angelo Kyle

  • Diane Hewitt

    Diane Hewitt

Published: 12/1/2009 11:38 AM | Updated: 12/1/2009 5:14 PM

With political pressure mounting, all but four Lake County Board members formally have refused to accept salary increases effective Tuesday.

The deadline for commissioners to file the necessary paperwork to refuse the roughly $1,600 raises was Tuesday, the start of the 2010 fiscal year.

The four who haven't filed are all Democrats from the county's east side. They are: Diane Hewitt of Waukegan, Angelo Kyle of Waukegan, Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan and Audrey Nixon of North Chicago.

Hewitt told the Daily Herald she planned to keep the money. Kyle said he planned to file the paperwork but didn't Tuesday.

Nixon said she was undecided, while Cunningham declined to comment.

Hewitt explained her decision to accept the pay raise by saying she pays for job-related expenses out of her own pocket rather than using a $4,500 county-funded spending account to cover those purchases.

"I feel I've saved the taxpayers $4,500," Hewitt said.

The panel's six other Democrats promised to return the money, as have all 13 Republicans on the board.

"A lot of county workers are not getting a raise (and this is) solidarity with them," said Commissioner Terry Wilke, a Round Lake Beach Democrat.

During the 2009 fiscal year, the annual salary for nearly every county board member was $39,370. County Board Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt earned about $80,000, plus extra stipends, because of her extra duties.

The county board narrowly approved four years' worth of raises in May 2008, including a 4-percent bump for the 2010 fiscal year. Salaries are set every two years for the board members and those elected officials who serve in countywide offices.

At the time, proponents said the raises matched percentage increases planned for county employees. Opponents said the raises didn't make sense during an economic downturn.

As the recession worsened, opposition to the raises grew, as did the campaign to return the money. In August, more than half of the board members told the Daily Herald they planned to refuse the raise.

Schmidt was among the first commissioners vowing to return the extra cash.

The Lake Villa Republican was happy so many of her peers decided to join her.

"I think it's the only decision we can make," Schmidt said.

Others declined.

Hewitt said she hasn't received any calls or e-mails from constituents who disagreed with her decision. She said the push for board members to return the money is simply a "political ploy" started by members who are up for election in 2010.

If all 23 members agreed to return the cash, it would have put more than $36,000 back in the county's coffers.

Although Tuesday was the deadline for commissioners to decline the raise, the paperwork will be accepted until Dec. 11, which is the date the first paychecks of the 2010 fiscal year are distributed, county officials said.