Evanston’s Compensation Committee, at a meeting Thursday evening, agreed in principle to a plan that would end the dramatic disparity in the cost to taxpayers of compensating City Council members.

According to the city website, aldermen now receive cash compensation of $15,990 a year for their part-time jobs with the city.

But under compensation plans adopted by City Councils going back more than a decade, they also are entitled to health insurance benefits from the city.

Depending on whether they opt for health coverage, and whether they sign up for an individual or family plan, that can more than double the total cost of an individual alderman’s compensation.

Several aldermen hold other part or full-time jobs that may offer health coverage and they may qualify for coverage under a partner’s employer benefits.

But because the city’s health plans require a lower employee contribution than most private-sector plans, most aldermen who could qualify for other plans still opt to take the taxpayer-funded coverage.

The panel, chaired by former Alderman Cheyl Wollin, agreed to instead propose that all elected officials — the aldermen, mayor and city clerk — be offered employee-only coverage paid for by the city plus the option to opt for family coverage at their own expense.

Meeting online, the panel reviewed a spreadsheet prepared by member Rebecca Berneck, the CEO of Officeheads,  that outlined a schedule for a gradual transition to the new model, but instead opted to recommend switching to the new model immediately, with the seating of the new City Council after the election in April 2021.

The panel also agreed to recommend some increase in the base pay for aldermen to, in effect, give back some of the savings the city would realize under the new plan, but didn’t reach a conclusion about the size of that increase.

During public comment at the meeting, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who only receives individual health insurance coverage from the city and who has long advocated for changes to the compensation plan, said the easiest way for the city to be equitable would be to give aldermen a lump sum payment and let them buy insurances wherever they chose.

“Compensation shouldn’t be about insurance,” Rainey said. “You shouldn’t get more for being an alderman if you have a family of four.”

The committee agreed to meet again online at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, for what Wollin said she hoped would be its final meeting.

Whatever the committee ends up recommending, the final decision about how much elected officials make next year will be decided by the incumbent aldermen later this year.

In 2016 the aldermen voted to give the next council a 23.1 percent pay hike, and rejected suggestions from Rainey to reduce the health-insurance-based compensation disparities.

Since the turn of the century, the pay of Evanston aldermen has risen substantially faster than the rate of inflation. And for years, aldermen in Evanston have earned substantially more than their counterparts in similar-sized nearby communities.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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