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12-08-04 To pay retirement or not — that is the Rockford issue

By Timothy Cox

  ROCKFORD -- A dispute between village council members and Tax Administrator Herb Muhlenkamp could result in the town having to find someone else to fill the post next year.

  Muhlenkamp appeared before council Tuesday to ask members to reconsider plans to have him serve in the post as an independent contractor instead of a part-time employee. Muhlenkamp has served in the post since mid-2001.
  "I still want to be a village employee if at all possible," Muhlenkamp said.
  Muhlenkamp said he wants to remain part of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), something he could not do as an independent contractor. Muhlenkamp also laid out a number of positive aspects of the current arrangement, a situation he called a "win-win situation" for himself and the town.
  Muhlenkamp's accounting practice is located just across the street from the village hall, and he said he is always accessible. Remaining an employee also would clear up other issues, he said, such as whether he has access to attorney Judy Koesters for legal advice.  The switch in Muhlenkamp's status came in relatively uneventful fashion during recent budget discussions. Council members decided at that time to make the change; most were hesitant to revisit the issue again Tuesday.
  Council member Keith Rutledge said the issue revolves around fairness to the retirement system. As a former county commissioner, Muhlenkamp's eventual pension benefit would be calculated on his highest-earning years as a public employee, which would have been his stint as commissioner. He earns only $10,000 for the tax administrator's job.
  Rutledge said using the part-time post to capture what could eventually be a full pension is not fair.
  "He's not playing with a full deck on the retirement pension," Rutledge said.
  Council member Greg Pontsler said he thought the issue was all about health insurance, not retirement. Muhlenkamp does not receive health insurance from the town.
  Rutledge said there are other issues to consider. For example, if Muhlenkamp would be injured at his office, it would be difficult to determine whether he was on town business or private business at the time of the accident, Rutledge said.
  When council members without a vote decided to offer Muhlenkamp an independent contract for $10,300 for next year, the mood turned sour. Muhlenkamp suggested he also would be writing a contract to cover the town's share of rent and utilities at his office. He then left the meeting.
  "We may have to look for a new tax administrator then," Rutledge said just before Muhlenkamp left.
  Clerk-Treasurer Amy Lyons defended Muhlenkamp's service and urged council members to reconsider their stance.
  "I think we're very fortunate to have Herb," Lyons said. "He's accurate, easy to work with. He comes over here at the drop of a hat. He has education ... he's an accountant. I don't think we want to look for a new tax administrator."
  Lyons said council members likely would end up paying more and getting less if they cut ties with Muhlenkamp.
  "He's been nothing but fair," Lyons said. "I could never see him trying to screw the town over."
  A contract will be presented to Muhlenkamp for his consideration. It remains unclear if he will sign it and remain on board as tax administrator.


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