As most public officials know, the Illinois constitution prohibits an elected official’s compensation from being increased or decreased during the official’s term of office. With the 2017 local elections rapidly approaching, public bodies that want to change the salaries of the officials who will be elected at the April 4, 2017 election must do so at least 180 days prior to the date when the elected officials would take office, as discussed below.
What is the deadline for establishing compensation?
Section 2 of the Local Government Officer Compensation Act specifies that compensation of elected officers “shall be fixed at least 180 days before the beginning of the terms of the officers whose compensation is to be fixed.” 50 ILCS 145/2. While the 180 day calculation seems simple, it will likely be different for many local governments.
For example, for townships, it is easy to calculate the 180 days, because all township officials, except assessors, take office on the third Monday in May, which will be May 15, 2017. 60 ILCS 1/50-15. Township boards are also required to set the salary of the township assessor at the same time they set the compensation for the supervisor, so the same deadline applies, even though new assessors will not be seated until the following January 1st. See 35 ILCS 200/2-70. So, for all townships, the latest date to set compensation of newly-elected officials is November 16, 2016.
The deadline for setting compensation gets murkier with other local governments that do not have fixed dates for their officers taking office. School boards generally seat new members at their organizational meetings, but dates for those meetings may vary. Park boards usually install officers at their first meetings after they receive their vote results.
The Illinois Municipal Code specifies that terms for municipal elected officials commence “at the first regular or special meeting of the corporate authorities after receipt of the official election results from the county clerk…unless as otherwise provided by ordinance,” but then that ordinance cannot fix the date later than the first regular or special meeting in the month of June after the election. 65 ILCS 5/3.1-10-15. The challenge with this requirement is that the date that elected officials take office following the election varies depending on the form of government and, at times, upon the public body’s receipt of the election results.
It is somewhat surprising that the 180 days does not match up to a uniform date when all elected officials take place, so each governmental body will have to guess when they will receive the vote results from the election authority and compute the applicable date. So, it is possible that you will not actually know precisely when 180 days in advance will be. Elected officials begin their term of office at the first regular or special meeting of the corporate authorizes after the receipt of the official election results from the county clerk. Typically, these meetings happen in May, following the election. Because the date on which the new officials take office is different in various communities, some careful effort should be taken to make sure the date of any salary change is early enough so that no challenge can be made to the action. Certainly, the safest approach is to adopt any compensation ordinance well in advance of the deadline.
The safest way to handle this is to act now, if you have not yet done so. If you want to know the precise date that applies to your public body, speak with your local government attorney.
Why do we have this requirement?
There are likely several reasons for this requirement. One reason is that the rule prevents elected officials from giving themselves raises (or lowering compensation of rivals who won) in between the time of the election and the time that they will take office. Another reason is that they have to set compensation before candidates have even filed petitions to run for the office, so this prevents officials from basing compensation decisions on the identities and personalities of candidates with few people in the race.
Does the new compensation apply to all of the elected officials?
No. Any changes in compensation for people holding the same office (for example, village trustees) only apply to the officials who are elected at the April 4, 2017 election, not those elected in 2015. Therefore, it is possible that trustees may be paid differently depending on when they were elected.
Does the prohibition against changing elected officials’ compensation during their term of office mean that their compensation has to be the same for the whole term?No. This rule comes from Article VII, Section 9(b) of the Illinois constitution, which states:
An increase or decrease in the salary of an elected officer of any unit of local government shall not take effect during the term for which that officer is elected.
Therefore, the prohibition is against effectuating a change in compensation during the term of office. If, for example, the compensation changes because your board has provided for a 2% increase each year, as long as that schedule of payments is adopted by the board and effective 180 days before the elected official takes office, it is not a prohibited change of compensation. However, you cannot establish a fixed salary schedule and then decide, in the middle of an elected official’s term, to increase the salary by 2%
Any other tips?
Yes. We recommend that your legislative act regarding compensation be enacted in writing – either a resolution or ordinance, instead of a motion memorialized in meeting minutes. It is much easier to review later if a question arises when it is in writing. We also recommend that it contain all elements of compensation – not just salary. Specify other benefits, such as health insurance eligibility, IMRF eligibility, etc. within the ordinance or resolution.
Please contact our office (or consult with your local government attorney) if you have any questions.
Posted by Keri-Lyn Krafthefer, Ancel Glink