The controversial issue of lifetime health insurance benefits for part-time Chicago Ridge trustees will be discussed at Tuesday’s village board meeting, and a large audience is likely judging by the standing-room only crowd when it was first brought up at the April 21 meeting.
“It is definitely going to be on the board’s agenda. What is decided will be up to those six people,” Mayor Charles Tokar said of the trustees earlier this week. He had received some criticism for not putting it the agenda to be voted on at the April 21 meeting, as Trustee Sally Durkin had asked.
Tokar, who was village clerk when the insurance benefits were originally approved by the board more than 15 years ago, said he intends to form a committee to discuss the details of the program at the committee meeting prior to the main board meeting.
The mayor said he would like have a couple of the trustees, as well as legal counsel and an insurance expert together to look at the history and facts surrounding the policy, and the legality of making changes to it.
Originally, the life, health, vision and dental insurance benefits were offered to trustees who had served two four-year terms, but when they were last updated in 2000 under Mayor Eugene Siegel, they were extended to those who had served four years and been elected to a second four-year term.
The village picks up 80 percent of the insurance costs for trustees who have other employment, and 100 percent if they do not. It is available after they leave the board, and can be passed on to their spouses when they die.
Tokar said at the April 21 meeting that when the original legislation was approved, insurance only cost the village $25 or $50 per month per person, but prices have skyrocketed since then. According to published reports, it will cost the village about $134,460 this year, about 1 percent of the annual budget.
Trustees Amanda Cardin and Durkin have said that they do not take the health insurance benefit, and newly elected trustees William McFarland and Fran Coglianese said they will not accept the insurance either.
McFarland and Coglianese, along with newly re-elected Trustee John “Jack” Lind, are due to be sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting.
Many residents apparently were not aware of the insurance program until it became a campaign issue during the April election. A few people said that the controversy unfairly cost longtime Trustee Daniel Badon his seat. A trustee since 1997, Badon was the only member of the current board who was serving when the insurance benefits were introduced.
He said at the April 21 meeting that he would not have a problem with giving up the insurance, because he has other options.
Tokar, who said solving the insurance issue was a priority, admitted this week that he was surprised to see so many people at the April 21 meeting.
“I knew there would be a lot of people there, because it was being talked about on social media. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the auditorium that crowded,” said the mayor.
There are questions about the legality of getting rid of the program entirely, especially for those currently on it. But there was general agreement between the mayor and board members at the April 21 meeting that at minimum, some changes needed to be made.