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Balich against giving pay raises because of change in job title

Will County Forest Preserve District budget proposal includes pay raises
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015 5:03 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015 10:53 p.m. CDT

By LAUREN LEONE–CROSS – lleonecross@shawmedia.com
JOLIET — Amid staff cutbacks and added responsibilities, certain Forest Preserve District of Will County employees would receive two pay raises in less than a year under a draft budget proposal presented Wednesday to the district’s Finance Committee.

The $16.2 million operating budget presented Wednesday was balanced, but would use $600,000 in cash reserves. That balanced status is due to the district’s creation of an early retirement program. The district faced a $400,000 shortfall last year.

The proposed raises received pushback from some committee members, including Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen. He questioned whether pay increases are a good idea in light of last year’s shortfall and the state budget crisis.

“Everyone is trying to cut, and we’re saying, ‘What the hell, we’ll just give them a little more money?’” Balich said.

Balich and committee member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said they would like to see a cost analysis comparing the district’s expected savings from the early retirement program and proposed pay increases.

While additional job duties warrant raises, Ogalla said staff should keep in mind taxpayers are footing the bill.

“You hear it all the time. People complain all the time about how government grows and that government employees have great benefits. There’s nobody in this who’s going to deny that,” Ogalla said. “[Taxpayers] are the ones paying the bill and the majority of those people don’t get the benefits that everyone in this room does have.”

The first set of pay raises amounts to $199,720 — or 1.84 percent of the district’s $10.84 million personnel budget. John Gerl, the district’s finance director, said the district’s personnel costs total 67 percent of the overall operating budget. The increase applies only to those who have taken on additional job duties due to the district’s restructuring of departments and the early retirement program, Gerl said.

Some of the district’s 120 employees have retired, or will retire in the near future, and there are no plans to replace them. Over the next five years, the program is expected to save the district just over $2 million.

Union employees also are set to receive a contractual 2.75 percent wage increase in July 2016, totaling just over $30,000 for the district, including benefits. Staff recommended Wednesday to grant the same increase to non-union employees, totaling about $74,400.

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