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Wage debate: County Board chair seeks support for directors' raises

Kane County Director of Development Mark VanKerkhoff attends a Kane County Board meeting Tuesday in Geneva. VanKerkhoff is among several county directors poised to receive 5 percent raises if approved by the board.
Kane County Director of Development Mark VanKerkhoff attends a Kane County Board meeting Tuesday in Geneva. VanKerkhoff is among several county directors poised to receive 5 percent raises if approved by the board.

GENEVA – Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen says he has the votes to pass nearly $60,000 in raises for nine county directors.

The County Board was expected to discuss five of the compensation adjustments during its meeting Tuesday, but Lauzen postponed the item to April. This way, he said, the board can talk about those increases and the four that still need to go through the committee process in one discussion.

Two board members – Barb Wojnicki, R-Campton Hills, and Melisa Taylor, R-Sugar Grove – said last week they intend to vote against the 5 percent salary bumps, and they did so Wednesday when two were brought to the Kane County Development Committee for consideration.

Taylor described the raises as “absolutely ludicrous” and said it is premature to consider them when union contracts are not finalized.

Lauzen – who ran on a fiscally conservative platform – maintains his effort to make Kane County’s director salaries more comparable to those offered by other nearby counties will not cost taxpayers “one penny more” due to savings in other areas.

St. Charles resident Roger Lehmann said in an email that he has contacted his County Board member about the topic. If savings are “burning a hole” in the county’s pocket, he said, why not use it for something else?

“How about putting it aside for the next emergency such as winter road maintenance?” Lehmann said. “Or even better, reducing my taxes.”

The theory behind the raises is to protect talent and reward achievement, Lauzen has said.

“In every business, we should never take for granted our talented employees,” the chairman said.

He said performance reviews were conducted before Christmas, and quality work was required to get a raise. The county should pay at least the average for superior performance, he said.

He noted the directors also went without raises in four recent years. Viewed that way, he said, it would be like getting a 1 percent raise each year, with this year being the fifth.

Lauzen has spoken about each director’s qualifications, experience and contributions when presenting the proposed raises. He also has compared Kane County’s salaries to those offered by other counties.

Wednesday, for example, he said Mark VanKerkhoff, the director of development and community services, currently makes about $22,305 below the average of his counterparts.

Board member Drew Frasz, R-Elburn, said he fully supports the raises. He and member Mike Donahue, R-Geneva, said they view the increases as a “one-time correction.”

Lehmann, however, doesn’t buy that reasoning.

“Isn’t this a bit like keeping up with the [Joneses]?” Lehmann said. “Just because other counties pay more does not mean Kane County must pay the same rate.”

Board member Kurt Kojzarek, R-Gilberts, said he isn’t a big proponent of looking at averages because that can inflate salaries, but he is a supporter of rewarding talent.

His workplace recently lost several employees to competitors, he said, so he understands the costs of replacing an employee can be greater than the raises.

Donahue said he would support a comprehensive wage and salary study for all county employees. He acknowledged the study wouldn’t be cheap, but said the benefit to the board as policymakers would be worth the time and effort.

The 5 percent raise to next begin the approval process is expected to be presented Friday to the Judicial and Public Safety Committee. It is for Brad Sauer, the director of emergency communications.

By the numbers

The Kane County Board is expected next month to vote on 5 percent salary increases for nine directors to better align their compensation with their counterparts in other nearby counties.

The list below shows the total cost of their increases, their salary after the increase and the average salary of their counterparts in Cook, DuPage, Lake, Will, McHenry, Kendall and DeKalb counties.

• $6,833 cost, $120,750 salary ($155,358 average) – Joe Onzick, finance

• $7,221 cost, $127,596 salary ($128,910 average) – Sheila McCraven, human resources

• $6,555 cost, $115,829 salary ($111,096 average) – Mark Armstrong, assessments

• $3,857 cost, $68,173 salary ($112,446 average) – Don Bryant, emergency management

• $6,499 cost, $114,855 salary ($141,662 average) – Barb Jeffers, public health

• $8,050 cost, $142,258 salary ($132,190 average) – Roger Fahnestock, information technology

• $6,485 cost, $114,597 salary ($131,445 average) – Mark VanKerkhoff, development

• $5,719 cost, $101,011 salary ($115,147 average) – Scott Berger, community reinvestment

• $5,467 cost, $96,600 salary ($113,453 average) – Brad Sauer, emergency communications

Source: Documents provided by Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen

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