Township government questioned in Shields
Shields Township volunteer PJ Placito Miceli works inside the food pantry located at the township office in Knollwood. | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Shields Township recently lowered the salaries of all eight elected officials. For some, the move could not have come soon enough. Others feel it’s a mistake.
The issue at stake is the nature and scope of township government itself.
“Everyone I talked to doesn’t even know what the township does,” said Trustee Scott Anderson. Anderson has served on the board for the last year and a half. He was one of the three board members, along with Trustees Laura Carney and Lynn Baehr, who voted yes on every salary cut.
“People I spoke with were aghast at the salaries,” Anderson said.
The board decided at its meeting Nov. 15 that all elected positions should be part-time.
Trustees will no longer be compensated. In addition, the township supervisor’s annual salary has been cut to $30,000 from $70,000. The assessor will earn $50,000, down from $82,000. The highway commissioner’s annual salary has been cut to $30,000, down from $52,000. The clerk will receive $6,000 in annual pay, down from the current $14,000.
Anderson said too much of Shields Township’s $1 million budget was going to salaries.
“It’s completely illogical,” he said. “Most elected officials volunteer and aren’t compensated at all, like those in Lake Forest, for example.”
So what do townships do?
The law requires them to assess property, administer General Assistance (GA) and Emergency Assistance (EA) to needy residents and maintain roads and bridges in unincorporated areas.
Shields Township Supervisor Gale Strenger Wayne characterized the work as much more extensive, however.
Wayne said that administering GA and EA is time-consuming, since it’s difficult to qualify. A person applying for the assistance cannot be receiving any other government program, such as disability or food stamps.
“When residents come into our office, we do everything possible to help them,” Wayne said, including finding other agencies to assist if residents don’t qualify for GA or EA.
“This outreach, creativity and relationship-building take time and commitment,” Wayne said.
Anderson and other trustees who voted to make the cuts contend that the amount of aid given by the township is small and other social welfare agencies can do a better job with the money.
Janice Schnobrich, a long-time resident of the township, agrees. She has been on a personal quest to lower elected officials’ salaries for 12 years. She even ran for supervisor twice, in 2001 and 2005.
Schnobrich said she believes the responsibilities of officials do not justify their salaries.
“They basically are in it just to support themselves,” she said, referring to certain past and current officials.
Shields Township may be blazing a trail that other local governments in Lake County have yet to walk on.
Avon Township in Round Lake Beach recently lowered its salaries as well, but the cut was not as drastic. Assessor Chris Ditton said the pay was rolled back to 2009 levels and will go down 3 percent annually over the next four years. The new salary level takes effect in 2014, at which point the Avon Township supervisor will make $65,000.
Libertyville Township, with approximately 14,000 more residents than Shields’ 39,000 residents, left their compensation levels the same for the next four years. The Libertyville Township supervisor’s annual salary is $85,733, according to Director of Finance Pam Milroy.
Moraine Township in Highland Park also has kept salaries the same. The Moraine supervisor is paid $65,000, according to the disclosure posted on the township website.
A concern in Shields Township is whether qualified candidates will still seek office with the lower pay structure in place. Wayne said that while it may affect the decisions of others, she is undeterred and plans to seek re-election April 2013.
“There is more to be done and I would be honored to finish what I started,” she said.