RANTOUL — The village board appears to be split on whether elected officials should receive pay raises beginning next year. The board will take up the issue at its Sept. 8 meeting.

The trustees at last week’s village study session heard presentations from a local resident and Village Clerk Mike Graham, encouraging them to hike the compensation because it has been more than a decade — in the mayor’s case more than two decades — since increases have been approved.

Some trustees appear to be hesitant to approve increases because some employees have complained about inequitable wage increases.

Resident John Killeen said trustees have declined to raise elected officials’ pay because of politics and have “kicked the can down the road.”

He said it has been 13 years since trustees’ pay was increased, 21 years for mayor and 11 years for village clerk.

Killeen cited several large purchases made by the village in recent years, including $153,000 for HVAC replacement at the police station, $55,000 for a rec department mower and $1.2 million for a new fire truck.

“The board has been faithful in inflation adjustment of pay for non-elected employees,” Killeen said. “When it comes to salaries this year alone, the board approved $298,548 in raises for regular village employees. The village has an $8 million payroll. The elected officials represent a tiny fraction of this.”

Killeen said the village board performs a vital function to the community, including representing the interests of residents, proposing and ratifying ordinances, approving the budget and “most importantly, providing oversight in all functions of our village.”

According to state statute, public bodies that opt to raise elected officials’ pay rate must do so no later than 180 days prior to the next election. The next municipal election is April 6.  

“It’s inflation, 13 years of inflation,” Killeen said. “After all, a cost-of-living raise isn’t a raise at all. Instead it merely keeps pay in a state of equilibrium with prices,” Killeen said.

Graham said he received a “troubling call” from a resident who heard Graham was planning to run for mayor and would push for a $15,000 pay increase for the job.

“I told him I’m not running for mayor, clerk or anything,” Graham said. “I’m running away” and doesn’t plan to seek re-election as clerk either.

He encouraged the board to increase the pay rates and agreed with Killeen that trustees haven’t raised them in recent years because of politics.

“Like Harry Truman said, ‘If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen,’” Graham said.

Graham said in 1972, former Mayor Jack McJilton, when Rantoul had a population of 25,000 during the days of Chanute Air Force Base, made $25,000 a year, plus $4,000 for liquor commissioner, and $400 a month expenses to wine and dine prospective businesses. He said former Mayor Katy Podagrosi made $35,000, but it dropped back to $25,000 after she resigned and after the air base closed.

“This is a corporation,” Graham said. “The president of the village board/mayor is the chairman of the board. The chairman of a major corporation” has to plan for the village’s future, has to interact with investors, the public and vendors.

“The employees receive raises of 2.7 to 3 percent every year,” Graham said. “Policemen receive a raise that is negotiated. The (utility) workers are under contract and get a raise.”

He said congressmen, state legislators and Champaign County elected officials get cost-of-living raises annually.

“I think the current mayor has spent a great deal of time in the office. The sports complex has generated a great deal of enthusiasm.”

Trustee Mark Wilkerson backed a pay increase and encouraged the board to approve the recommendations made by Graham with the exception of the one for mayor for which Graham had recommended $40,000. Wilkerson proposed $36,000 for mayor, including $4,000 for liquor commissioner. The mayor is currently paid $21,000 plus $4,000 for liquor commissioner.

He recommended the annual salary of village clerk to increase to $8,500 (currently paid $7,500), while the trustees’ pay would climb to $6,000 (currently paid $4,800).

“What we do up here in this room is important,” Wilkerson said. “I think there’s a lot (of work outside the board room), and I think these are appropriate raises to propose for next year. I think it’s been long enough.”

Trustee Sherry Johnson said she didn’t run for the office “for the money.”

“I ran to help the village,” she said, “even though I feel like I’m hitting the wall half the time.”

Johnson said the mayor of Champaign (population 88,909)  receives $35,000 a year, while council members earn $5,000 annually. In Danville (30,479 population) the mayor/administrator earns $75,000 a year and aldermen $2,700.

She said Rantoul, population 12,941, pays $110,000 to the village administrator. She said she could see payment of $32,000 to the mayor but is not in favor of raising the pay of the trustees and clerk.  

“I know this is a big city, but we have a lot of debt,” Johnson said. “I know with the sports complex coming that’s going to be another bond we’re going to be paying for.”

Johnson said the village clerk is also entitled to more pay for additional certifications, denoting additional training, totaling $1,800 a year.

Trustee Terry Workman said the sports complex is set up to pay for itself.

“It’s not going to cost us anything,” he said. “The village has a $54 million budget. The raise would be $23,000 ($19,200 according to Graham). I’ve been going through financial statements, and reserve funds are comparable to a year ago before COVID. Financially we are very sound, and we have been making budget decisions that are very sound.”

Workman said he guarantees the issue is not a political one for him.

“If I get elected, fine,” he said. “If I don’t get re-elected, so be it.”

Workman suggested taking care of the issue “permanently” and mandating percentage raises annually for elected employees. Graham, however, said that is not legal, even though Champaign County does it.

Trustee Sam Hall said he, too, didn’t run for the office for the money.

“It’s what I like doing, helping people,” he said, and added he has reservations about a pay increase.

“Most of the trustees have heard the grumblings in the inequities in pay of our staff,” Hall said. “I think that needs to be addressed. That, too, has been kicked down the road. For me to give myself a raise potentially, ... it just doesn’t seem fair.”

Mayor Chuck Smith said Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer and Comptroller Pat Chamberlin have been addressing the pay inequity among non-elected employees.

Trustee Hank Gamel said Hall made similar points to what he planned to say.

He said he has spoken with Killeen and “enjoyed his logic and reasoning. I told him I would try to convince myself to vote for it. Just one reservation has been our sticking point, that I’m concerned my vote to approve it may have the unintended effect of a slap in the faces of the very same employees that you are referring to.”

Gamel added, “We have all heard it said that we may not be providing truly equal employment opportunities in the areas ranging from the selection and assignment to compensation and advancement. So a vote in favor of the officials who are ultimately responsible for the ... shortcomings could come across as a systemic double standard.”

Gamel said he planned to consult with the human relations committee to discuss his concerns.

Trustee Gary Wilson said the trustees are making minimal money for the time they put in.

“We spend a lot of hours” on village business, he said. “When you look at the big picture, the money we’ve spent in the village. ... At first I thought it was ridiculous. Twenty-three thousand dollars, we spend more than that on cleaning services.”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com