BELLEVILLE — Aldermen on Tuesday will discuss whether the city should continue to have a city treasurer.
Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden said a decision to remove an elected position should be made by voters in the November election, not City Council.
The City Council must approve whether a referendum will be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. But first, the proposal will go before the aldermanic Ordinance and Legal Review Committee at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council Chambers at Belleville City Hall, 101 S. Illinois St.
Hayden, a mayoral candidate, is undecided on the issue, but he said the Unified Independent Coalition for All of Belleville, which supports him, is looking for a certified public accountant to endorse for treasurer.
Hayden said he's calling for a referendum in response to a proposal by another mayoral candidate, Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore.
In May, Elmore announced that his campaign ally, Ward 4 Alderman Dean Hardt, will be "our next city treasurer, and hopefully our last city treasurer."
Elmore and Hardt clarified Friday that if elected, they promise, at a minimum, to research and devise a plan for how the treasurer's duties could be absorbed to save money.
The running mates said they know it is possible to consolidate the treasurer and finance director's offices because other Illinois cities have done so successfully.
"If you're electing us, you're electing a vision," Elmore said.
Hayden called the campaign platform a "gimmick."
"Let's not play games with an elected position," Hayden said. "Instead of getting into election folly over this issue, we can take it to the people in November."
If residents vote Nov. 6 to cut the position, then there won't be a treasurer race.
If residents vote to keep the position, then the focus will be on electing the best candidate -- not the candidate who promises to keep or remove the position -- Hayden said.
Mayor Mark Eckert said there isn't enough time to get public input and inform residents before the City Council has to decide to have the referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Eckert wants a public hearing on the topic, as the city did for video gambling and crime-free housing.
But a hearing needs a 15-day notice and to qualify for the November ballot, the city must approve a resolution by Aug. 20 and submit the question to the county by Aug. 30.
Hayden said a public hearing is not required and could be held later.
Elmore and Hardt said the city isn't ready to make such a serious decision now, whether by a council vote or referendum. The reason they're campaigning for a position they believe should be eliminated is because the city will need about four years to transition to a new system.
They said they will develop a concrete plan after Hardt spends time in the treasurer position, evaluates the duties of the job and delegates new assignments. They believe a new technological infrastructure will improve communication between departments and help the treasurer's office and finance department do more in a faster and efficient way. It will take time to budget for and implement such technology.
City Treasurer Jerry Turner, who has served for nearly eight years, said Elmore and Hardt's platform is a "skillful political maneuver" because in today's economy, the public is keen on any kind of job elimination.
Turner said the public should consider: Will cutting the position actually save money? Who will take over the duties?
Turner earns about $72,000 annually, excluding benefits, and manages eight employees.
Finance Director Jamie Maitret earns about $67,000 annually, excluding benefits, and manages two employees.
Eckert said it would cost as much as Turner's salary or more to hire an assistant finance director as a replacement and give the finance director a raise to manage both staffs.
Elmore and Hardt said their effort won't cut $72,000 but there will be savings. Their plan is to promote a current employee as assistant finance director and hire an entry-level worker. The finance director probably won't get a raise.
Turner and Eckert said critics don't know all the work the two positions entail.
Turner's duties include the following: He collects all city revenue; manages the police and firefighters' pension funds as required by statute; makes daily bank deposits; handles payments from permits and parks; balances the monthly bank statements and creates an annual report. He also oversees sewer billing and collection.
Maitret's responsibilities include the following: She works on the annual budget, reviews and pays the bills, handles payroll, oversees contract negotiations and grant applications, works with auditors and serves as a staff liaison to the aldermanic Finance Committee.
Turner, Eckert and Hayden also are concerned of the impact on the necessary checks and balances between the treasurer, who is elected, and the finance director, who is appointed by the mayor.
Turner said he doesn't answer to the mayor: "The public is the only boss I have."
Elmore and Hardt believe a thorough annual audit is enough to protect the city's finances.
What are other cities doing?
*Fairview Heights residents will decide by binding referendum in November whether to keep a part-time elected city treasurer position. Fairview Heights has a full-time finance director.
* Collinsville's full-time finance director also serves as the city's treasurer.
* O'Fallon voters in 2009 decided to keep the elected treasurer position by a margin of 23 votes.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.