While touted as a cost-saving move for Orland Park, a big raise for that village’s mayor, which will kick in next spring, was criticized by angry residents as not justified.
Some in a standing-room-only crowd on Monday night — a rarity for a Village Board meeting — promised retribution at the polls in April when Mayor Dan McLaughlin and three trustees seek re-election.
Now paid $40,000 as mayor, plus another $3,000 a year for serving as liquor commissioner, the mayor would be paid $150,000 and the position expanded to full-time with added responsibilities of being Orland Park’s lead person on economic development matters. The higher salary won’t take effect until after next spring’s elections.
Prior to the board’s unanimous vote hiking the salary, with McLaughlin abstaining, he and trustees spent about two hours listening to residents who questioned the size of the increase. One resident said it was “unconscionable” for the board not to have put the issue to voters in the form of a referendum question.
One asked why the salary couldn’t be set at $80,000, or double what the mayor currently makes as a part-time elected official. Others questioned whether taxpayers would have to foot the bill for the higher pension the mayor would receive under the new salary.
Trustees insisted that the village faced the need of hiring a second assistant village manager as well as an economic development director, at a cost, including benefits, that would be more than double what the mayor’s new salary would be. In a letter handed to residents before the start of the meeting, the village said that, over the course of the mayor’s four-year term, the village would make pension contributions totaling $77,000 compared with $111,000 for two new employees over the same period.
The mayor won’t receive health insurance coverage through the village or be eligible for cost-of-living or merit pay raises.
The move to expand the mayor’s role and boost the job’s pay was discussed by the Village Board’s Finance Committee, which recommended it to the full board as an alternative to hiring two more employees.
Broadening the mayor’s duties “made complete fiscal sense to us,” Trustee Mike Carroll, a member of that committee, told residents.
Changing the position’s salary had to, under state law, be approved at least 180 days prior to the start of the next term, which will be in May.
Growing the mayor’s role doesn’t mean the village is abandoning the village manager’s position. Police Chief Tim McCarthy is serving as interim manager while the search is underway for a new one. Former Village Manager Paul Grimes, who left earlier this year to take a similar job in McKinney, Texas, was paid just under $162,000 in salary, excluding benefits, in his last year with the village.
One resident questioned the need to make the mayor’s job full-time, saying “the village hasn’t suffered” with McLaughlin handling the job on a part-time basis.
“I think we’re all satisfied” with the condition the village is in, she said.
The crowd was mostly older residents, some of whom bemoaned the fact that they’ve seen nonexistent growth in their incomes due to virtually flat or minuscule changes in Social Security benefits. Others noted that, due to pay freezes or other reasons, salaries for some families have remained stagnant.
“We’re hurting out here and you’re going to get a raise,” one woman said.
Along with remaining responsible for “resolving constituent issues,” the ordinance approving the new salary requires the mayor to devote much of his time to working with existing businesses and otherwise “promoting and facilitating the economic development” of the village.
“We’re kind of stuck,” Trustee Jim Dodge said, noting that Illinois’ financial condition and high Cook County property taxes are two big strikes against attracting businesses to move into the village or expand.
“Do we really need more development in Orland Park?” one man asked to enthusiastic applause.
If the village isn’t aggressive in pursuing development — particularly to diversify its heavy reliance on retail sales tax revenue — “we’re going to be falling way behind,” McLaughlin said, later adding: “If we don’t compete then we’re losing out.”
One resident said he was concerned that the village, as it spells out the economic development role the mayor will play, may paint itself into a corner, if whoever succeeds McLaughlin lacks the skills to woo businesses.
After the residents spoke, Dodge, who faces re-election next year, said the “anger in this room is palpable,” and that he and the mayor questioned whether some of the comments were stemming from a wider dissatisfaction with state and federal government.
McLaughlin said he understands people are “just plain fed up and frustrated,” but that he hoped “people can separate” Orland Park from what’s going on in Springfield or Washington.
It wasn’t all darts aimed at McLaughlin, with some residents commending the job he’s done, such as one woman who told the board “we get a good bang for our buck.”