Burr Ridge trustees question being paid for service

Guy Franzese was named trustee at the Burr Ridge Village Board meeting on Monday. He will finish the unexpired term of Robert Sodikoff, who was named acting mayor last month. SANDY ILLIAN BOSCH -Sun-Times Media
Burr Ridge 2013 village trustee candidate Janet Ryan Grasso
Michael "Mickey" Straub, mayor of Burr Ridge

Burr Ridge Trustee Guy Franzese questions whether a village that struggles to balance its budget should be paying its elected trustees and mayor.

Fellow Trustee Janet Grasso argues that a village that cannot balance its budget has bigger problems to consider than whether to spend $24,000 a year on Village Board stipends.

Whether and what to pay the village’s president and six trustee will be one of many subjects discussed when the board begins working on the 2014-15 budget early next year.

“There is nothing that leads me to believe we will have a problem balancing the budget,” said Village Administrator Steve Stricker. He said money is tight every year, but the salaries provided to the Village Board amount to a very small portion of expenses.

“One percent of the budget is $80,000,” he said. “That ($24,000) is not making or breaking the budget”

The Burr Ridge ordinance was changed in 2008 to raise compensation from $1,200 to $6,000 annually for the village president/mayor and from zero to $3,000 per year for each trustee. As is required by law, the pay raises did not go into effect until after the following election, so as not to affect any voting members of the board. Likewise, any change made to the salaries would not take affect until May 2015 and would not apply to the three trustees whose terms end in 2017.

That’s a problem for Grasso.

“I’m not deciding for myself,” she said.

In fact, she would be deciding whether trustees years from now would be expected to work for nothing.

“I know the hours my husband put in,” said Grasso, wife of former Mayor Gary Grasso.

Mayor Mickey Straub said his village salary amounts to about $6.25 an hour, averaged over the 20 or more hours he spends on the job each week. While the salary is minimal, Straub said he has mixed feelings about accepting it.

“I certainly don’t do it because of the money,” he said. Yet he considers the stipend a token of appreciation for a tough and often thankless job.

A recent survey conducted by village staff of DuPage County municipalities showed that Burr Ridge ranks near the bottom in terms of compensation for its elected officials. Six of the 29 towns reported paying their officials nothing, or an amount lower than Burr Ridge. Nineteen pay their officials more.

Franzese said stipends are unnecessary even in the best of financial situations. He said he served 16 years as a Plan Commission member without compensation and would be happy to serve as trustee without pay, as well.

“You don’t do this for the financial gain. You do it to make the village a better place,” he said.

But choosing not to take the money isn’t as simple as it might seem. Village Attorney Scott Uhler said compensation cannot be changed for an official in office. That includes elimination of compensation. An official can donate the compensation back to the village or to any other organization, but they will still receive a 1099 form and are responsible for applicable taxes.

Franzese said about $30 of his monthly $250 check goes toward taxes, Social Security and other deductions.

“Giving it away is not a solution. The solution is not to be paid,” he said.

Straub said the question should be left up to the voters. If the trustees decide during budget discussions that a change is needed, he favors putting it on the next ballot as a referendum question.

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