Records show Orland Park trustee voted for measures that would have hiked property taxes
Although Carole Griffin Ruzich told Suburban Chicagoland she never voted to raise property taxes during her years as a trustee on the Orland Park Village Board, the public record tells a different story.
According to the Oct. 17, 2016, village board meeting minutes, Ruzich led efforts to spike former Mayor Dan McLaughlin’s pay and pension — a measure future tax hikes would have funded.
Common in Illinois, pension spiking allows public officials to receive massive raises during their final four years of service, significantly boosting their retirement benefits, as an article in the Will County Gazette noted. In McLaughlin’s case, the board (which denied the charge of pension spiking) voted him a $110,000-a-year pay hike back in October 2016.
“Carole Ruzich spearheaded the pay increase/pension spike voted by the Board of Trustees six months prior to the April 2017 election,” said Cynthia Nelson Katsenes, an Orland Park real estate broker and candidate for the village board's 2019 special election.
Nelson, who spoke via an email interview with the West Cook News, pointed out the village’s long-term debt has increased by $87 million during Ruzich’s tenure, jumping from $99.3 million in 2011 to $181.3 million at the end of 2016.
“Obviously, increasing the debt load will eventually lead to higher taxes and/or cuts in services in our economic climate of declining revenues and increasing costs to pension contributions,” Nelson said. “Kicking the can down the road much like what our state is doing.”
Voters, many of whom opposed the pay raise, refused to re-elect McLaughlin for what would have been his final four-year term.
“Had former Mayor McLaughlin been re-elected, the pension spike would have cost taxpayers just $2 million,” Nelson said. "Had current successor trustees (all supported by McLaughlin) sought to become mayor at a similar pay rate, the pension spike could have been significantly higher. [The Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund] can demand more money from municipalities, like Orland Park, to fund the rapid growth of pension benefits.”
Cynthia Nelson Katsenes said she and running mates William Healy and Michael Milani have pledged not to accept public pension funds, if elected.
“Elected officials are public servants participating in good government for the people they represent, not priming to profit for their service financially for themselves or their political insiders,” she said.