Melrose Park Mayor: "I didn't take a vow of poverty"

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The mayor of west suburban Melrose Park, Ronald Serpico, is driving around town in a brand new Jaguar, and FOX 32 News has learned that taxpayers are picking up part of the tab.

Yet, the village said the mayor's new wheels are actually saving taxpayers money.

"I've had Jaguars, probably six or seven, over the course of my life," said Serpico.

FOX 32 watched for several hours last week as the longtime mayor drove his brand new 2014 Jaguar XJL all-wheel drive sedan all throughout town. It's a head-turner alright, and according to the Kelly Blue Book, the car starts at about 72,000. Plus, if the car is fully loaded, it can run close to six figures.

FOX 32: Who's paying for it?

Serpico: "I'm paying for it."

FOX 32: You are? Is it coming out of tax funds at all?

Serpico: "I get a stipend every month. The car's in my name and I pay for my car."

However, it appears Melrose Park taxpayers are offering a helping hand, even if they don't know it.

State title records indicate Serpico began leasing the brand new Jaguar from a Naperville dealership in October, putting the lease in his own name. But right around the same time, the village began paying Serpico a monthly stipend of $500 for expenses in addition to his $100,000 a year salary.

A village spokesman acknowledges the taxpayer stipend is intended to defray the cost of the Jaguar.

FOX 32: So you're using that money to pay for the Jaguar?

Serpico: "I use that money for any expenses I have, lunches or anything else."

The village said the mayor is actually saving taxpayer's thousands of dollars a year with his new Jaguar. That's because he had been driving a "fully loaded" Ford Explorer, which the village was leasing for a thousand dollars a month including gas and insurance.

But the village will continue to pay for that explorer until the lease runs out in May. It's now been turned over to the Public Works Department.

"If he's saving that much money now by driving a Jaguar, what's wrong with this picture? How much money was being spent in the past and why?" said Robert Herguth of the Better Government Association.

Herguth also found old campaign flyers for Serpico, in which he said he's cut leased vehicle expenses and would never take a village vehicle for personal use.

Like many suburbs, Melrose Park could certainly use some extra money. Its police and fire pensions rank among the worst funded in the Chicago area.

"The appearance issue is another thing. Driving around in a town with financial problems, and the mayor's driving a Jaguar that the taxpayers are subsidizing? Even in part? It doesn't really look terribly good," Herguth said.

FOX 32: Could you get something a little more economical than a Jaguar?

Serpico: "Let me tell you something. I'm 63 years old. And I'm not a priest. I didn't take a vow of poverty. Been working as a lawyer for 37 years. And I really don't think I have to explain my life to you or anybody else."

That stipend the village board voted Serpico last fall is also raising questions. Under Illinois law, you can't change the salary or compensation for an elected official in the middle of their term. A village spokesman said it doesn't change Serpico's salary, but also admits the mayor plans to report the stipend as income on his tax returns.