- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - A new Illinois law bars newly-elected members on the state’s county boards from signing up for pensions from the Illinois Municipal Retirement fund.

The law, signed last month by Gov. Bruce Rauner, is a result of a political battle in McHenry County, where a candidate in the November race for county board president found board members were - depending on the county - supposed to work 600 or 1,000 hours a year to receive pensions.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who is running for county board chairman in November against Republican board member Michael Walkup, got pension fund officials to look into whether McHenry board members were improperly claiming the pensions despite not working the required 1,000 hours annually.

“We need to protect local taxpayers from having their money siphoned off by elected officials who are gaming the system,” Franks said.

The retirement fund guidelines contended the 1,000-hour limit - equal to about 20 hours a week - would make it “highly unusual” for any county board members to qualify for pensions.

Under the law, current county board members must document their work hours - and reach a county-specific minimum - to qualify for a public pension.

Eighteen of the 24 board members signed affidavits saying they worked enough hours to qualify. But when pension fund executive director Louis Kosiba asked board members to verify their claims, they said they couldn’t go back and document all their hours, noting that a lot of their work occurs outside of official settings, reading documents and talking to constituents.

Kosiba said last week that his investigation was “inconclusive,” but the governor had already signed the new pension measure into law.

The changes mean taxpayers may save a significant amount of the $10 million or so spent each year on county board member pensions in the state.

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