Lake Forest city manager outearns all 50 state governors
In Illinois, hundreds of municipal workers earn more than every state governor. The city manager of Lake Forest is the second-highest paid city manager in the state.
Larger constituencies don’t always come with larger paychecks.
Landing the role of city manager in Lake Forest, Illinois for example, can earn one an annual salary that eclipses that of every state governor in the nation.
According to Lake Forest’s budgeted compensation records, City Manager Robert Kiely’s total compensation is budgeted at nearly $250,000 for fiscal year 2018. This compensation includes base salary as well as longevity bonuses, clothing allowances, extra duty pay vacation, sick days, personal days and holidays, but excludes “discretionary bonuses” and overtime pay, according to city records.
To put that figure in perspective, the average salary for a state governor was approximately $137,400 in 2016, according to the Council of State Governments. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, the nation’s highest paid governor, collected $190,823 in 2016.
A recent report by Open the Books, a government finance watchdog, found 144 municipal government employees in Illinois outearning the governors of all 50 states, with Lake Forest’s Robert Kiely the second-highest earner among them. Only Grayslake Village Manager Michael Ellis, getting paid just under $273,300, earned more.
These earnings surpass that of the median household income in Kiely’s wealthy jurisdiction by more than 50 percent. The median household income in Lake Forest, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is roughly $162,000, nearly $88,000 less than what their city manager receives.
For residents of Lake County, in which the city of Lake Forest is located, property taxes consumed more than 9 percent of median household income in 2015.
Lake Forest has the lowest property taxes in Lake County, according to the Lake Forest City Council. However, this fact offers taxpayers little in the way of relief in a county that suffers among the highest property tax rates in the country – and the absolute highest in the state. Moreover, this burden only appears to be worsening. The typical Lake County property tax burden rose by more than 44 percent between 2000 and an average of years 2009-2013, according to a 2015 report by the Illinois Policy Institute.
City worker salaries are Lake Forest’s largest expenditure, consuming more than 24 percent of the city’s budget for fiscal year 2018. Employee benefits, which take up nearly 17 percent of the budget, are the city’s third-largest expenditure.
Yet the recent habits of some Lake Forest officials have indicated an insensitivity to the frustrations of taxpayers. In February, Kiely drew headlines for spending nearly $200,000 in tax dollars on lobbyist payments without the approval of local lawmakers. These payments were made as part of a push by some city officials to win funding from the state and federal government for the installation of an Amtrak stop in the city.
Local officials need to explore ways to reduce the burden on taxpayers. One example could be taken from the village of Lakewood in neighboring McHenry County. Lakewood’s village board voted in December to ease their property tax burden. The board had also previously voted to dissolve the village’s tax increment financing district.
Local residents can also demand a number of actions from their representative in Springfield that would ease property tax bills, including collective bargaining reform, pension reform and more.
While a single salary such as Kiely’s doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of a local property tax levy, plenty of other cost-drivers merit serious changes.