Straddled between two counties, Buffalo Grove officials recently joined the conversation on whether to opt out of a new Cook County ordinance bolstering the minimum wage rate and paid sick days for employees working throughout the county.
During a board meeting May 1, village trustees directed staff to develop an ordinance that would allow Buffalo Grove to opt out of the new ordinance and exempt local businesses in Cook County from paying employees a higher minimum wage rate and offering a required number of paid sick days. Officials could vote on the proposed ordinance as early as their May 15 meeting.
Some village board members said an opt-out measure was needed since Buffalo Grove's boundaries are split between Cook and Lake counties, potentially putting local businesses on the Cook County side at a competitive disadvantage.
Trustee Jeff Berman said that with about two-thirds of the village located in Lake County, businesses on the northern end would be able to pay lower wages, offer fewer benefits and likely would be able to offer customers lower prices as a result.
"We talk all the time about being business friendly," Berman said. "Here's an opportunity to step up."
Officials in Barrington said they had similar concerns when they voted to opt out of the Cook County ordinance last November, becoming one of the first suburban communities in Cook County to do so.
With boundaries also split between Cook and Lake counties, Barrington officials at the time said the new ordinance would put local businesses in Cook County at a competitive disadvantage with Barrington-based businesses in Lake County.
Since then, other towns, including Mount Prospect, Schaumburg and Wheeling, have opted out of the Cook County ordinance.
On May 1, Arlington Heights officials also voted to opt out of the countywide ordinance in front of a crowd of protesters who rallied before the start of the meeting to show support for the minimum wage and paid sick day laws, arguing the measures wouldn't inundate businesses with higher operational costs.
Before the 5-4 vote, Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes and other board members who supported the opt-out move said the issue was better left up to the state or federal government to legislate.
The activity comes after the Cook County Board approved last October a gradual increase to the minimum wage for private, county-based businesses to $13 an hour by 2020. The first increase, to $10 an hour, is expected to take effect July 1.
Cook County Board members also required employers in the county to offer at least one hour of paid sick time to employees for every 40 hours worked, effective July 1. Employees would then able to collect up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year unless their employer decided to set a higher limit.
By opting out of the new requirements, suburban communities are letting local businesses pay the statewide minimum wage rate of $8.25 an hour, as well as forgo the measure on paid sick days.
Supporters of the county ordinance have said it would provide a raise to more than 200,000 low-wage workers in Cook County, as well as ensure paid sick leave for roughly 840,000 private-sector workers who currently receive no paid time off if they are ill and have to stay home from work.
Aside from concerns over business competition, Buffalo Grove officials also have seen a number of commercial properties remain vacant along the Cook County side of town, including vacant parcels across Dundee Road from Buffalo Grove High School that once were used by auto dealer Bob Rohrman, as well as a largely empty Cambridge Commons shopping center at Dundee and Buffalo Grove roads.
With all those factors in play, trustee Dave Weidenfeld said it wouldn't make sense for village officials to follow the new countywide ordinance.
"It would be crazy," he said.
During the May 1 meeting, no board members spoke in favor of the Cook County ordinance.
At the Buffalo Grove Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, which has members in both counties, executive director Roger Sosa said his group believes that issues affecting minimum wage and employee benefits should be handled by the state or federal government.
Leaving the issue up to local authorities can create confusion, he said.
"We saw issues on both sides," Sosa said. "This is an issue that needs to be resolved at a much higher level than county."