Political one-upmanship game begins as board members set salaries, board muzzles barking dogs
• News and notes from the May 13 Winnebago County Board meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
As a number of incumbent Winnebago County Board members look ahead to the November elections, during which 14 of 28 board seats will be on the ballot, Democrats and Republicans have commenced maneuvers they hope will tip the scales in favor of their respective parties once the dust has settled.
Presently, the GOP enjoys a 15-13 majority on the board, but after the Republican-dominated Executive Committee gave the nod earlier in the week to a resolution that would freeze the salaries of the sheriff, clerk and treasurer—offices held by Democrats—for four years after the November elections, Doug Aurand (D-3) said he planned to introduce another resolution.
Because the committee also voted to eliminate the $1,000 bonus historically afforded to committee chairmen, Aurand’s measure would take the savings a step further by reducing pay for all board members by $500 each.
Board members are paid a $5,000 annual salary, plus up to $2,500 in per diem allowances if absent from no more than three meetings. Every absence in excess of three results in $100 being docked from per diem pay. Aurand’s intended resolution, which would reduce their base pay to $4,500 per year, never made it to the floor May 13, however.
Shortly after the meeting began, Republicans called a caucus to plan a coordinated response to Aurand’s measure. During the huddle, Republicans concurred with majority leader Frank Gambino (R-14) that the proposed 10 percent pay cut should apply to all other county elected officials as well.
In fairness to those additional officials who might also find their salaries cut, GOP caucus members opted to support a layover of the resolution planned for a vote that evening, to provide some notice of the proposal, rather than amending it on the floor without warning.
“For one of us, just in a meeting, to spring it up—I think that’s not a good idea,” Rick Pollack (R-13) explained, noting salary comparisons with other counties could also be examined during the two-week layover.
After similar politicking last year, the taxpayer-friendly, albeit modest, cost-savings proposals come as little surprise as elections draw near.
In March 2009, Republicans unanimously backed a resolution to voluntarily reduce stipends for board members who signed on. Legally, however, elected officials cannot adjust their own pay for the term in which they’re serving. As a result, those board members would have to accept their full salaries and per diem payments, but could then opt to give back to the county the portion they’d pledged to reduce from their pay.
John Ekberg (R-10) said he’s looking into another proposal taking aim at pensions collected by board members. Ekberg, who is running for re-election this year, has not taken part in the pension plan during his decade on the board, and he’s asking colleagues to follow his example.
“I didn’t feel right then—I don’t feel right today—to look in the eye of a constituent, saying, ‘You know, I’m gonna work here on the board, and after I get off the board, I’m gonna earn more,’” Ekberg said of the pension. “It’s a public service.”
Pollack and Ekberg argued other steps should be also taken to dock per diem pay from board members with poor attendance records at committee meetings.
“We know that a lot of our work gets done at sub-committees, and we know that we’ve had staff show up at our sub-committees, and we don’t have quorums,” Pollack indicated. “And then we show up here at the County Board, and we have three committee meetings at 5:45. That’s ridiculous.”
Despite “no” votes from Aurand, Bob Hastings (D-13), Mel Paris (D-8), Dave Tassoni (D-7), Isidro Barrios (D-11), Carolyn Gardner (D-9) and Angie Goral (D-7), the motion for a layover prevailed, and the antics will resume May 27—the board’s last statutory chance to adjust salaries before the November elections.
• For the control and regulation of barking dogs in unincorporated subdivisions of the county. The new ordinance targets owners of dogs which, “by frequent or habitual howling, yelping, barking, or otherwise, shall cause annoyance or disturbance to any person.” The law does not apply to animal shelters, farms or veterinary facilities. County leaders are poised to begin assessing fines, ranging from $50-$500 per day, at the discretion of the state’s attorney, but tickets cannot yet be immediately issued by animal control officers, however. A bill that recently passed both houses of the General Assembly is awaiting the governor’s signature before that can happen. Meantime, complaints will be handled through the 17th Circuit Court.
• Authorizing an $18,869 expenditure for the purchase of a vehicle for use by the coroner’s office.
• Releasing a lien on property at 928 Eighth Ave. in Rockford, resulting from a $2,250 fine levied against Dennis Meade for alleged health code violations in 2008. In 2009, the property was the subject of foreclosure proceedings, and is now owned by USA Housing Fund, LLC, based in Escondido, Calif. The county has agreed to release the lien for a $1,250 payment from USA Housing Fund.
• Authorizing settlement of a 2004 wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of Hazel Knowlton against county-run River Bluff Nursing Home in the amount of $75,000.
• Supporting the application for a Midwest Disaster Recovery Program grant through the State of Illinois.
• Abating taxes on property owned by DI Properties, which plans to construct two buildings along I-90 at an estimated cost of $8 million. The buildings will be leased by another company, which expects to add 32 new jobs by 2012. In total, $12,000 in property taxes will be abated during a 10-year period.
• Abating $291,000 in property taxes over a 10-year period for the Loves Park Corporate Center’s Phoenix Project along I-90, which will result in a new $15 million manufacturing facility and distribution center that is anticipated to employ 350 people.
• Denying a property tax abatement requested by Mason Harrison Ratliff Enterprises, LLC, owners of the Sonic Drive-In franchise, for a new restaurant in Loves Park. Although the abatement would only amount to $465 spread over a three-year period, and the restaurant is expected to create 60 new full-time jobs, board members were leery about setting a precedent for abating taxes for plentiful fast-food restaurants. Paul Gorski (D-5), Pearl Hawks (D-6), Kay Mullins (R-8), Dianne Parvin (R-4), Fred Wescott (R-9) and L.C. Wilson (D-12) voted in favor of the abatement.
• Appropriating $1 million in Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds for design and construction engineering, and as a local match, to leverage $4.8 million in federal highway funds, $236,500 in state funds and $489,000 in federal stimulus funds related to Meridian Road improvements between Cunningham and Knapp roads. A subsequent resolution authorized execution of the agreement with state and federal agencies.
• Authorizing a $62,570 construction engineering agreement with Hanson Professional Services for work related to bridge deck reconstruction at Perryville Road and the south branch of the Kishwaukee River in Cherry Valley Township.
• Executing an intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Machesney Park to guarantee funding for any future improvements at the intersection of Perryville and Hutchins roads. The village and county have agreed to share the cost of any such improvements.
• Naming the U.S. Route 20 underpass at the Pecatonica Prairie Path the Sherman Underpass.
• Amending an intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Machesney Park regarding the installation of traffic signals at Perryville Road and Anjali Way. The intersection falls under village jurisdiction, but to utilize unused federal stimulus funds, the village is agreeing to convey the $30,000 to the county for use toward the Hononegah Road project in exchange for the county installing traffic signals at the aforementioned intersection.
• Authorizing a $61,239.50 agreement with Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc., of Vernon Hills, to design traffic signals interconnected by fiber optic lines on Perryville Road, between Fincham Drive and Nimtz Road, as part of a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The signals will use light-emitting diodes, rather than incandescent lighting, and are expected to improve traffic flow, while reducing fuel costs and emissions.
• Authorizing the acquisition of two parcels of land on Meridian Road, between Safford Road and West State Street, through eminent domain. The properties are owned by Ralph and Anthony Russo, who have not been able to agree with the county on prices for the parcels as part of the Meridian Road project.
• Reducing the size of the Memorial Hall Board of Trustees from nine to three trustees. The decision was based on the county’s hiring of two staff members for the facility, resulting is less need for oversight by the board. The new board, to be called Friends of Memorial Hall, will consist of one County Board member, one member of the community and one representative from the county’s veterans’ association. Advisory board members will be appointed by the County Board chairman to two-year terms.
Marcia Stalheim, Rebecca Greene and Ken Greene were appointed to six-year terms with the Oakland Cemetery Burial Association, expiring June 2016. John Peterson, Robert Greene and Betty Greene were appointed to three-year terms.
Dan McKirgan was reappointed to a three-year term with the Northwest Fire Protection District, expiring June 2013.
Rick Haschke was reappointed to a two-year term with the Seward Sanitary District, expiring June 2012.
Charles Meyers Sr. was reappointed to a three-year term with the Win-Bur-Sew Fire Protection District, expiring June 2013.
Referencing a former Taco Bell in Machesney Park, Nancy Edwardsen suggested ways of putting the building back into use, including as a parole office for non-violent offenders, or as a ticket office for the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.
May 9-15 was proclaimed Police Memorial Week. May was proclaimed Motorcycle Awareness Month.
Karen Hoffman (D-11) was absent.
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