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Employees 'feeling betrayed' over Lake County's cuts to insurance contributions, circuit clerk says

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on September 14, 2018 at 2:35 PM

Frank Abderholden

September 14, 2018, 1:35 pm

The passage of a new health insurance plan by the Lake County Board this week drew warnings from the circuit court clerk and the union representing employees in that department to reconsider part of the plan or face an unfair labor practice charge.

Circuit Court Clerk Erin Cartwright Weinstein called on the board to reject the plan because many of her employees had been encouraged to open a Health Savings Account (HSA) as part of their insurance coverage because it would cost the county less.

 

Under the new proposal, the county’s contribution to the HSA would be reduced by $50 for single coverage and $100 for family coverage for the second year in a row. The county presently pays $1,200 for single coverage and $2,400 for family.

“My employees have come to me feeling betrayed that they were made a promise that the deductible was going to be given to them in exchange for the county being able to use a health insurance plan that would be less expensive to the county overall,” Weinstein said at Tuesday’s County Board meeting.

“My employees are basically being paid barely a living wage. This $50 and $100 annually towards their health care is a big deal. It’s a huge impact,” she added. “How do we justify $293,000 to maintain native plants along county highways, but not take care of our employees?”

Referring to similar comments she offered at a board committee meeting last week, Weinstein added that she was “discouraged (that) the only response from County Board members at the time was concern over the cost of a potential lawsuit.”

Colin Theis, a staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 — which represents around 105 circuit court employees who are not managers or supervisors, along with employees of the coroner’s office — also warned that any unilateral changes without negotiations would be considered an unfair labor practice.

“We have six months to file an unfair labor practice (charge), and we have some negotiation sessions coming up. We’re getting close,” he said when asked Thursday when the charge would be filed.

Theis thanked Weinstein “for standing up for her employees” in front of the County Board. He said the cost savings of the measure was $50,000 to $75,000, and considering the county’s 2018 budget is $437 million, he added that the change is literally a fraction of a percent of the overall budget.

Some of the other changes in the insurance plan included a 5.7 percent increase in premiums for all employees and an additional 2 percent increase for those choosing a premium Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) health plan.

The plan also calls for a premium subsidy for part-time employees of 25 percent if they work between 12 to 24 hours per week and a 50 percent subsidy for those working 25 hours to 37.5 hours per week.

County Board Member Sandy Hart of Lake Bluff voted against the health plan, but thanked the board for taking care of part-time employees, which county board members are also considered to be.

“Since we are part time staff, I’m thankful that it’s going to be offered to other part-time employees,” Hart said, adding that she would still be voting against the plan because of the other objections made by Weinstein. Both Hart and Weinstein are Democrats.

Theis said the increase in the HSA cost was the biggest problem, because even the 5.7 percent premium increase for a simple HMO “would be under $10 a month,” he said.

“Some employees make $25,000 per year, and that is not sustainable for the family in Lake County,” Theis added. “Court clerks are some of the lowest paid (employees) in the county — that’s why they joined a union. That, and they wanted everyone treated fairly.”

AFSCME won the right to represent the court clerks in August of 2014, but the union was unable to negotiate a contract with former clerk of the circuit court, Keith Brin. He then lost the election to Weinstein in the fall of 2016.

Besides Hart, board members Judy Martini of Fox Lake, Terry Wilke of Round Lake and Vance D. Wyatt of North Chicago voted against the health plan. Paul Frank of Highland Park recused himself from the vote for personal reasons.

County Administrator Barry Burton said Friday that the HSA account policy started with large contributions by the county, but the payments have been been scaling it back so they are more in line with the industry standards.

“We have had increased health insurance costs, but it is well below the national average,” he said.

He said most of the employees use the HMO option, which has a cap of $5,000 for out-of-pocket expenses, then everything is covered after that. The county self-insures, but contracts Blue Cross Blue Shield to administer the plan.

The single employee pays $61 per month and the county covers the remaining $686 of the premium. The employee pays 10.2 percent of the premium for a single under the Consumer Driven Health Plan and a family plan pays 14 percent of the premium.

“We want to be competitive and be a good employer,” Burton said.

fabderholden@tribpub.com

Twitter @abderholden

 

Lake County Board members disagrees with proposed statewide property tax hike

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on August 27, 2018 at 11:55 AM

by Karen Kidd

 

An outgoing county board member says he's against a proposed a statewide property tax that could raise levies by almost 50 percent for the next 30 years, though he voted against placing an question about the measure on the ballot for Lake County voters to consider in November's election.

"I voted against putting the question on the Ballot since it will have no impact," Lake County Board District 14 representative Vance D. Wyatt told the Lake County Gazette. "As I stated on the floor at our August County Board Meeting, I believe that it will pass overwhelming and I think it's just a political maneuver."

 

His opposition to having the question on the ballot doesn't mean he supports the proposal behind it, Wyatt asserted.

"I don't agree with the proposal by the Federal Reserve as an avenue to solve the state's pension issues," he said. "Illinois has had major issues with spending over the years, which has caused unnecessary burdens on local governments that rely mostly on property taxes."

The tax burden carried by Lake County residents is already high, Wyatt said.

"In the 14th District which I represent, the property tax rate, for the most part, falls as follows," he said. "North Chicago 18 percent, Waukegan 16 percent, Lake Bluff 12 percent, Park City 11 percent, and Gurnee 10 percent. My district happens to have some of the highest property taxes not only in Lake County but in the state of Illinois. Further increasing the tax rate not only at the local level but now at the state level would cause further economic damage to our community."

The Lake County Board voted earlier this month to place the non-binding referendum for a ban on a statewide property tax on the ballot for Lake County residents in November's general election.

Wyatt, a Democrat and a CVS Health financial analyst, was appointed in June 2017 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of longtime board member Audrey Nixon. Wyatt lost his bid for a full term in the seat during the Democrat primary in March to former board member Angelo D. Kyle. Kyle is running unopposed in November's General Election.

Lake County's 14th District includes Park City and portions of North Chicago, Waukegan Gurnee and Lake Bluff.

The Lake County ballot question follows a proposal by the Chicago Civic Federation and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in April when a Chicago Federation speaker proposed an across-the-state tax levy. The tax would be a special property assessment estimated at about 1 percent of actual property value each year for the next three decades. That special property assessment would be in addition to current property taxes Illinois.

It's a proposal that Illinoisans cannot afford, Wyatt said.

"The citizens and Business can't afford this a new property tax from the state," he said. "Of course, we should be looking at ways that could cut cost at the local level. Every year there is talk about getting rid of townships. This could save myself about $60 on my tax bill. But, if we had a legitimate discussion on consolidation of school districts we would see a much larger share of savings."

The first step toward a better solution would be to address the line item that takes "the largest share" or property taxes, Wyatt said.

"Schools account for 55 percent to 70 percent of the tax bill around Lake County," he said. "Looking at eliminating some of the 52 different school districts that don't always match up to local city and village boundaries would be the kick we all need."

Wyatt said he understood the apprehension that idea could cause school board members.

"I share that same apprehension when you discuss going to a county library or park system since I served as both a library trustee and park commissioner," he said. "But, we all have to admit that we have to do something before no one can afford to live in our community.”

 

Lake County Board approves advisory referendum about potential statewide property tax

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on August 14, 2018 at 6:25 PM

Frank Abderholden

August 14, 2018, 5:25 pm

 

T he Lake County Board passed a resolution to put a non-binding referendum on the November ballot asking residents if they support amending the state Constitution to ban the implementation of a statewide property tax.

Board members argued over whether or not that type of referendum was necessary given that no such tax proposal is pending, but an article in Crain’s Chicago Business in May reported that three members of the Federal Reserve Board had made such a suggestion as a way to fund state pension liabilities.

Voters will be asked to answer the following question: “Shall the Illinois General Assembly amend the State Constitution to ban the creation of a new statewide property tax?” Underneath the question is the statement “Ballot for banning the creation of a statewide property tax.”

“We’ve had two changes here at this meeting,” said Sandy Hart, District 13, at Tuesday’s board meeting. “I’m concerned this has been brought forth haphazardly.”

The referendum was discussed at a committee meeting last week.

“It’s a clear violation of our rules,” she said. “There’s been no bill introduced. You’re putting things on the ballot that was taken out of thin air, and I have a real problem with that.”

Paul Frank, District 11, said the board’s longstanding policy is not to create referendum questions unless they have to do with the County Board.

“This is not germane to county business,” he said. “It’s based on a newspaper article. It’s kinda of a joke here, and we are setting a bad precedent.”

Michael Danforth, District 17, defended the measure saying, “This allows constituents a voice. Let’s give them the opportunity to speak to Springfield. This also speaks to the taxing districts. People are paying enough taxes.”

Judy Martini, District 5, said she has no problem with putting the referendum on the ballot. “I want to make it clear the County Board is not voting to support. We’re just putting it on the ballot. We are not taking a position on this.

“Let the voters decide,” she continued. “Democracy works best when you empower voters.”

Sidney Mathias, District 20, said he doesn’t believe this opens the door to more referendums, nor break the board’s policy of only having referendums that have to do with county business.

“We do levy a property tax and they made an issue of property taxes,” he said, referring to the state’s Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, which is also mentioned in the resolution for the referendum. “We can debate this endlessly.”

Steve Carlson, District 7, said he felt the referendum was meaningless. In fact, he added, “It’s an expense to taxpayers to put it on the ballot. This is a waste of time folks.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s politics. It’s meaningless,” he said.

Carlson said by circumventing the boards policy and rules not to have referendum questions that are not germane to Lake County government, board members are opening themselves up to others, like questions about Second Amendment rights or building a wall along the Mexican border.

“Do we vote on that?” he asked.

Both Mary Ross Cunningham, District 9, and Vance D. Wyatt, District 14, said the referendum will have no impact.

“I’m voting no either way,” Cunningham said. “It’s not going to stop taxes from going up.”

Wyatt said, “This is not going to freeze property taxes. It’s not going to do anything. It’s not going to solve anything with our property tax bills.”

The measure passed by a vote of 11 to 7.

fabderholden@tribpub.com

Twitter @abderholden

 

Wyatt committee reports nearly $10K in contributions during first quarter

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on August 12, 2018 at 11:50 AM

by Local Labs News Service

Vance Wyatt Election Campaign, a candidate committee, reported receiving $9,986.10 from Jan. 1 through March 31, according to its first quarter report to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Vance Wyatt is an Independent.

The committee reported $3,800 in individual contributions and $5,518.10 in loans. It also reported $668 in in-kind contributions.

The following table lists all contributions reported by the committee.

Amount

Contributor

Date

Contribution type

$2,000

Aprile, Frances

2018-02-28

Individual Contribution

$1,700

Wyatt, Vance

2018-01-19

Loan Received

$1,500

Friends of Terry Link

2018-03-21

Individual Contribution

$940

Wyatt, Vance

2018-02-12

Loan Received

$668

Sierra Club Illinois Chapter PAC

2018-03-31

In-kind Contribution

$639.05

Wyatt, Vance

2018-01-29

Loan Received

$639.05

Wyatt, Vance

2018-03-01

Loan Received

$600

Wyatt, Vance

2018-03-19

Loan Received

$440

Wyatt, Vance

2018-02-05

Loan Received

$250

Broad, Adam

2018-01-27

Individual Contribution

$200

Wyatt, Vance

2018-03-13

Loan Received

$140

Wyatt, Vance

2018-01-16

Loan Received

$120

Wyatt, Vance

2018-01-02

Loan Received

$100

Wyatt, Vance

2018-01-04

Loan Received

$50

Broad, Adam

2018-01-05

Individual Contribution

 

 

Lake County Board wants Rauner to alter legislation targeting chief assessment officer

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on July 10, 2018 at 8:00 PM

Written by Russell Lissau

After much debate, a divided Lake County Board voted Tuesday to ask Gov. Bruce Rauner to alter legislation that could change how the county's chief assessment officer is chosen.

A bill that would let voters decide if the officer should be an elected position awaits Rauner's signature. It's a board-appointed post and has been held by Marty Paulson since 2003.

If Rauner signs, a binding question would appear on Nov. 6 ballots in Lake County. The post would be up for election starting in 2020 if voters approve the plan.

The county board voted 14-5 to ask Rauner to use his amendatory veto power to expand the legislation so the same question appears on ballots for the roughly 60 Illinois counties that have board-appointed assessment officers and board-chosen chairmen, just as Lake does.

The assessment officer coordinates property tax assessment activity throughout the county. Proponents of the state legislation have complained about Lake's high property taxes and have said electing the chief assessment officer would give residents more control over those taxes.

Opponents say the bill illegally singles out Lake County. They also say the assessment officer has little control over the amount of property taxes homeowners pay because tax levies are set by local government boards.

Some critics also have complained the plan was rushed through the General Assembly without giving county officials an opportunity to give input.

"It's just the way it got here and how it was done," said county Commissioner Mike Rummel, a Lake Forest Republican.

A crowd of county residents concerned about the issue attended Tuesday's meeting in Waukegan, and they overwhelmingly supported the legislation as written. They included Zion activist Clyde McLemore, who said giving voters the ability to elect the assessment officer "takes control away from this board" and improves government transparency.

The meeting got a little wild when McLemore made an unrelated remark about Commissioner Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan, leading to a heated exchange between McLemore and board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in which Lawlor repeatedly told McLemore to sit down.

County commissioners spoke at length on both sides of the issue.

Highland Park Democrat Paul Frank was among those who supported the bill as written.

"I don't think we should be standing in the way of voters," Frank said.

Fox Lake Republican Judy Martini criticized the county resolution, too. Lake County's high property taxes are a problem, Martini said, "and we've got to address that problem."

Joining Frank and Martini in voting against the county resolution were Lake Bluff Democrat Sandy Hart, North Chicago Democrat Vance Wyatt and Grayslake Republican Jeff Werfel.

On the other side, Lincolnshire Republican Ann Maine said she was fine with giving voters the ability to decide whether the assessment officer is elected or appointed. But Maine also criticized the bill for singling out Lake County, and she backed asking Rauner to amend it.

Fox River Grove Republican Michael Danforth was harsher, calling the legislation disingenuous. Electing the assessment officer will not affect property taxes, he said.

"We have the skin of the truth stuffed with a lie," Danforth said. "And that's not a sausage the guy in this chair is going to eat."

A Rauner spokeswoman said the governor is reviewing the legislation but declined to say whether he plans to sign or veto the proposal.

The bill is the third piece of state legislation in the last five years to target Lake County government.

In 2013, the General Assembly stripped election oversight from the county clerk and created a Lake County election commission. A judge declared the law unconstitutional.

Last year, legislators approved a plan to let voters elect the county board's chairman, rather than continuing to have members choose their leader. Rauner vetoed it.

 


Lake County Board may ask Rauner to alter chief assessor bill

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on July 9, 2018 at 6:30 AM

Russell Lissa

The Lake County Board may ask Gov. Bruce Rauner to alter legislation designed to make the county's chief assessment officer an elected post rather than appointed.

A bill that would let voters decide how Lake County's assessment officer is hired has cleared the legislature and is awaiting Rauner's signature. If Rauner signs, a binding question would appear on Nov. 6 ballots in Lake County.

The post would be up for election starting in 2020 if voters approve the plan.

Lake County officials are weighing asking Rauner to use his amendatory veto power to expand the legislation so the same question appears on ballots for the roughly 60 Illinois counties that have board-appointed assessment officers and board-chosen chairmen, just as Lake does. The board will debate forwarding the veto request to Rauner Tuesday.

"We support the right of voters to make this decision," said Chairman Aaron Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican. "But if it's such a good idea, why not make it applicable (elsewhere)?"

Targeting Lake

The bill, which had bipartisan support in Springfield, is the third piece of state legislation in the last five years to target Lake County government.

In 2013, the General Assembly stripped election oversight from the county clerk and created a Lake County election commission. Lawlor sued to block the change, and a judge declared the law unconstitutional.

Last year, legislators approved a plan to let voters elect the county board's chairman, rather than continuing to have members choose their leader. Rauner vetoed it.

The latest bill singles out veteran Chief Assessment Officer Marty Paulson's job.

Paulson's office coordinates property tax assessment activity in Lake County. It oversees the work of township assessors and mails annual assessment notices to property owners, among other duties.

Paulson, who through a spokeswoman declined to comment, has feuded with some township assessors who said he ignored their reassessments. Paulson and the county have been sued twice by those assessors, but both cases were dismissed.

Yingling leads charge

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat, championed the legislation. He has called Lake County's property tax system "dysfunctional" and said the chief assessment officer can unilaterally increase assessments and drive up taxes.

But county board member Craig Taylor, a Lake Zurich Republican, believes the legislation stems from the disputes between Paulson and the assessors. Taylor said some GOP lawmakers who backed the bill didn't know about those fights.

"They've been duped, in my opinion, into going along with this," Taylor said. "Why would you want to have an assessor who's tied to a political party?"

Yingling isn't the only Democrat tying Paulson's nonelected status to the county's relatively high property taxes. So is county board candidate Julie Simpson of Vernon Hills, who's challenging Lawlor and made a campaign video supporting the legislation.

In the 30-second spot, Simpson calls the proposed amendatory veto "a deceitful, political maneuver that deprives us our right to vote."

Adding counties will create a delay and prevent the question from appearing on this November's ballot, Simpson told the Daily Herald.

"If other counties are interested in passing similar measures, they are welcome to learn from the grass-roots campaign that was built in Lake County," she said, referring to a local petition drive against a veto. "We need reform now, not two years from now."

'It will fail again'

Critics of the legislation, however, say changing how the assessment officer is chosen won't lower tax bills.

"The only way to materially effect property tax reduction is a reform of the way schools are funded," said county Commissioner Steve Carlson, a Gurnee-area Republican.

Carlson also dislikes that the legislation targets Lake County, even though most of Illinois' 102 counties appoint chief assessment officers in the same manner. To Carlson, the bill smacks of previous legislative attempts to weaken Lake County politicians.

"This has been tried twice before and failed both times," he said. "It will fail again. It will either be vetoed or it will eventually lose in court."

A Rauner spokeswoman couldn't be reached about the governor's plans for the bill.

Not all county commissioners want a veto. North Chicago Democrat Vance Wyatt supports putting the question on Lake County ballots as proposed.

"We need to look at all options for (tax) reforms," he said.

Still, Wyatt said he would have preferred the proposal come from the board or citizens rather than legislators.

 

 

Prizewinning business journalist: Speed, change essential in company growth

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on June 1, 2018 at 5:40 PM

Written By Kim Mikus

Speed matters, as does a willingness to embrace new tactics and change in the workplace in order to grow as a company, award-winning national journalist Robert Safian told more than 500 business leaders Friday.

Safian has interviewed the most innovative CEOs in the country and shared what he has learned from stories he has written about them for Fast Company, Fortune, Time and other magazines. He was the keynote speaker at the annual Big Event breakfast at Marriott Lincolnshire held by Lake County Partners, celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Safian told participants the speed of change in a company is important. "Building a cadence of change" is key, he said, pointing to companies that have succeeded in this area, including Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. "These companies are completely and continually redefining who they are. It's not just an online seller of books or a place for college kids to meet each other," he said. " These companies are pushing themselves and they're pushing each other in that process to continue to be more ambitious."

Safian recently started The Flux Group, a media, insights and strategic advisory firm, after overseeing Fast Company's print, digital and live-events content for the past decade.

Safian said innovation is key and people in the workplace must work together to make changes happen. "Innovation often happens in the gap between silos," he said. "We have to break down silos between the different parts of our business to be able to unlock those things" and find creativity and survive, he said.

Speaking of survival, Safian pointed to the father of evolution himself, "Charles Darwin noted that it's not the strongest of the species that survives. It's not the most intelligent that survives. It's the one that's most adaptable to change."

Several other speakers joined Safian during the economic meeting. Sumit L. Dasai, vice president and director of research at Mesirow Financial Wealth Advisors talked about the growing economy and important issues relating to the growth. Costco raising its minimum wage, intensifying the battle for unskilled workers in a tight U.S. job market, and the steel and aluminum tariffs were among the issues he addressed.

Jennifer Harris, president of CR Search Inc., presented the Lake County Workforce Ecosystem Talent Innovator Award to Lincolnshire-based HydraForce Inc., a manufacturer of hydraulic cartridge valves, manifolds and electrohydraulic controls. The 1,000-employee company has launched innovative programs to bridge the skills gap, Harris said.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor provided an economic update of the county.

Participants at the event said they were inspired by the speakers. "The key note was wonderful. One thing I picked up is that you have to be adaptable," said Cheri Richardson of Gorter Family Foundation in Lake Bluff.

"It was a great event with great ideas," said Lake County Board member Vance D. Wyatt. He said he picked up that business owners must find ways to reinvent themselves and adapt to change.

 


Coffee with your County Board Member Second Quarter

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on May 13, 2018 at 9:25 PM

Lake County Board Member Vance D. Wyatt hosts his second quarter coffee with your County Board Member of 2018. It’s an informal gathering for residents to share opinions and learn more about some county services that are available to them.

Lake County Commissioner Vance D. Wyatt on Community Fourm

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on April 23, 2018 at 9:00 PM

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Letter to the Editor - Law could help end puppy mills

Posted by Vance D. Wyatt on March 27, 2018 at 11:05 AM

3/27/2018 10:03 AM

Go Humane Lake County is an organization that promotes rescue and adoption of pets, and advocates for changes in local and state laws to end the pet overpopulation crisis.

We respectfully urge Lake County government to follow the lead of Will and DuPage County and request our state legislators to add Lake County to Senate Bill 2280.

This bill states that all pet stores must source their dogs, cats and bunnies from rescue organizations or animal shelters (as has been done in Cook County).

We commend PetSmart, Petco, Pet Supplies Plus and the many other retailers who have already adopted this humane business model.

Reputable breeders never sell their animals to pet stores for resale, which is why this legislation does not hurt reputable breeders. Reputable breeders are concerned with every aspect of their animal's health and always allow potential buyers to visit their facilities.

Pet stores often source from commercial breeders, aka: puppy mills. These operations can house hundreds of breeding dogs, who spend their entire lives in cages being repeatedly bred, then are disposed of when no longer producing. Some, but not all, are USDA licensed, but oversight and inspection are inadequate. "AKC registered" has no bearing on the conditions pets are bred under. Pet stores and puppy mills call themselves the "pet trade industry." They are the major cause of pet overpopulation and euthanization in the USA.

Go Humane Lake County strongly supports the addition of Lake County to Senate Bill 2280, and thanks board members Sandy Hart, Judy Martini, and Vance Wyatt for their advocacy.

Let's make Lake County humane and join with 230 cities, towns, and counties, and the state of California to help put a stop to puppy mills.

Denise C. Rolando

Gurnee

 


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