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posted: 3/4/2010 12:01 AM

Local officials push police, fire pension changes

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By Timothy Magaw

SPRINGFIELD - As a 29-year veteran of the Naperville Police Department and now the city's top elected official, Mayor George Pradel's seen both sides the public safety pension problem.

"When I was a police officer, I thought the city had deep pockets," Pradel said during a Capitol news conference. "But as the mayor, I know now the difficulty facing cities having to fund these pension systems."

So, Pradel said Naperville and a consortium of other villages, cities, associations and lawmakers spearheaded a coalition aimed at reforming pension systems for police officers, firefighters and other public-safety employees.

The group's platform includes consolidating public safety pension systems into one statewide fund, enrolling new employees into a modified pension system and making employees and taxpayers contribute equally.

State Sen. Pamela Althoff, a McHenry Republican, said reforming the system is needed to protect taxpayers, ensure a continuation of public services and sustain the public safety employees' retirement benefits.

"We are not asking to take benefits away that have already been promised to police and fire employees as we value these men and women and the services they provide our communities," Althoff said. "However, maintaining the status quo is not sustainable."

Ed Hoes, the executive director of the Illinois Police Association, said police unions would weigh, but not likely favor, consolidating their pension systems into one fund.

"There's a lot of legwork we still have to look into," Hoes said.

Meanwhile, local government officials complain they've more than doubled pension contributions over the last 10 years due to General Assembly actions.