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Article updated: 1/30/2013 5:44 PM

Round Lake Park to seek tax hike for police pensions

By Mick Zawislak

Voters in Round Lake Park will be asked to pay higher taxes to increase money in the police pension fund.

A question on the April 9 consolidated election ballot will ask whether property tax collections can be increased from the existing limit of 5 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is less. The requested increase of more than 37 percent, would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 an additional $90.58 in property taxes in the first year.

The village board approved the move 5-0 during a brief special meeting Jan. 21. The last day for local governing bodies to adopt a resolution or ordinance to put a measure on the ballot was Jan. 22.

Round Lake Park's police pension fund is about 20 percent funded. State law requires municipalities to fund police pensions but also requires non-home rule municipalities, such as Round Lake Park, to hold a referendum to increase taxes.

"The police pension board came to us and said, `When are you going to fund our pension?' There was talk they were going to sue us," Mayor Jean McCue said.

If approved, the tax increase would be levied this year but collected in 2014. The village most recently allocated about $189,000 in property taxes for police pensions. The proposed increase would net an additional $272,000 more each year for that purpose.

"We want to make sure if we're going to levy, we don't have to go back to them (voters) and say, `We didn't levy enough," McCue said.

Deputy Police Chief Dan Burch, president of the pension board, said the fund covers three retirees, one surviving spouse and 13 active police officers. About $5.5 million would be needed to bring it to a 100 percent funding level, he estimated.

The board has a fiduciary responsibility and could be held accountable by members if it did not take action to increase the amount funded, according to Burch.

Talks with the village have continued for about two years, he added, but increases in village revenue that could have been used to shore up the fund have not materialized, he said.

"The village board has been receptive to the needs of the police pension," Burch said. "It's been waiting to see if there is some tax revenue generated that would allow the village to contribute more."

He said suing the village was one avenue but there had been no serious discussion of doing that.

"The first option we wanted to do was talk with the village board and see what they came up with," he said.

Officials say the village already is at bare bones and has nowhere to find money in the current budget for the pension fund.

"We are at a loss. We don't know where else to go or what to do," Village Attorney Peter Karlovics said.

The wording of the question is determined by state statute. Because it does not say the tax increase will be used for police pensions, the village is planning to educate voters.

"We're going to try and send out literature and maybe we have an open house type thing to explain it," McCue said.

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