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ELECTED VS. APPOINTED: ASSESSORS GAIN BENEFITS IF THEY'RE VOTED INTO OFFICE

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MARION - Williamson County Commissioner Rex Piper is pushing to have the supervisor of assessments become an elected position instead of an appointed one.

But to get it put on the ballot in time for November's election, Piper must get immediate support from Commissioners Robert "Bo" Emery and Wendell Fisher.

"The issue should be addressed to the voters," Piper said. "Do the voters want to elect their new supervisor or do they want to continue to have it appointed?"

Commissioners appoint the supervisor, and for seven years Democrat Jeff Robinson has held the post. But Piper and Robinson prefer voters determine the county's chief assessor.

"The question is put it on the ballot to see if people should be elected or not," Robinson said. "The trend is toward that, and since this is a democracy people should have a right to vote on important issues."

Statewide trends show an interest in electing assessors. The Illinois Department of Revenue says 21 counties in Illinois elect their supervisor. In Southern Illinois, there are six: Alexander, Gallatin, Hamilton, Johnson, Perry and Randolph. And for most of those, electing the assessor is a recent decision.

Supervisors who are elected gain benefits not available to appointed officials. The best of those is participation in a retirement plan, which greatly increases pensions.

The state's retirement plan for school, local and county officials requires people to work 40 years in order to receive a pension worth 75 percent of their final month's pay.

But county elected officials - including county clerk, treasurer, state's attorney and sheriff, among others - may participate in an alternative program, the elected county officials plan. That plan first needs to be approved by county officials.

Williamson County elected officials are members of that plan. It requires them to work only 20 years in order to receive a pension worth 75 percent of their final month's pay.

However, elected county officials don't need to spend 20 years in office before getting accelerated retirement benefits. Under the program, after eight years they're entitled to 24 percent of their final monthly pay.

Tom Harmon, Gallatin County's supervisor of assessments, praises that program.

"I don't think job performance has any bearing on it," Harmon said. "But it's a huge benefit to be elected for retirement purposes."

Because Robinson has been assessor for seven years, he would be eligible to participate in the elected county official plan next year. At his salary of $44,652, Robinson would get a gross monthly pension of $893.04 if the position became an elected one through the accelerated elected county official plan.

Besides retirement benefits, some supervisors prefer election over appointment. In Williamson County, the commissioners also are members of the property tax appeal board, which has direct influence on assessment arguments between the public and the supervisor of assessment's office.

Randolph County supervisor Wayne Voss said being elected gives him greater freedom from county officials. Voss was first elected in 1990, the same year the county switched from appointing to electing its assessor.

Harmon also said being elected allows greater flexibility.

"You become a little more cognizant of people coming into the office because they are the people that put you there … they elect you," Harmon said. "To a certain extent, it frees you from the (county) board."

Still, whether Williamson County voters have a choice will be up to Commissioners Emery and Fisher. They have until Jan. 14 to decide in order to be included in the March primary or the November general election.

"Right now, I don't think any of the three commissioners know what's all involved," Emery said. "It's being brought up at the last second and there is no chance for fact-gathering."

Fisher also seems skeptical.

"We are trying to save money, and I haven't had a chance to research this much, but from what I understand if we do elect an assessor, any assessor elected after 1993 would get automatically a 12 percent raise extended to their salary," Fisher said. "I think in this case it amounts to over $5,000."

State law says only counties with a population of 60,000 to 100,000 and who pay their supervisor the state-mandated minimum of $10,000 must extend the 12 percent raise. If they pay more than $10,000 they don't have to give the raise.

Because Robinson makes more than $44,000, the raise wouldn't apply, said Mike Klemens, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Revenue.

The commissioners could take up the issue at the next meeting, at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Williamson County Courthouse.

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