The president of the Mount Prospect firefighters union and the head of the village's police pension fund took issue at a recent village board meeting with comments attributed to Mayor Arlene Juracek blaming the rising costs of their members' retirements for spending cuts elsewhere.
Dale Steward, president of Mount Prospect Firefighters Local 4119, and Tony Halachoulis, president of the Mount Prospect Police Pension Fund, appeared before the village board to challenge Juracek's statement that the "village has been able to fund pensions by reducing spending in other areas."
Halachoulis said this occurred only because of the economic collapse in 2008, and was the only time in the history of Mount Prospect's police pension fund that the village claimed services had to be cut to fund pensions.
He also disputed a statement attributed to Juracek saying, "30 percent of property taxes still go to pensions."
"Your statement gives the impression that when (residents) get their $6,000 tax bill, that $1,800 of it goes to the pension funds, when in actuality it is more like 3-4 percent of the tax bill," Halachoulis said.
Mount Prospect, along with communities across the state, is struggling with the rising costs of public safety pensions at a time when revenues have been falling or stagnant. Juracek and other municipal leaders have blamed the rising costs in part on so-called "sweeteners" passed in Springfield that enhance benefits at a cost to local governments.
Halachoulis, however, said that the last sweetener for police pensions occurred more than 15 years ago, when the number of years an officer had to work to earn a maximum pension was reduced from 35 to 30 years. He scoffed at the suggestion that officers' retirement age be raised to lower pension costs.
"Do you really want 60-plus-year-old police officers on the street trying to wrestle with someone 40 years younger than them? Can you imagine the increase in insurance costs and disability claims with older officers?" he asked
Municipalities already received significant pension reform with the creation of "Tier 2" officers, which reduces pension benefits and cost of living adjustments for officers hired after Jan. 1, 2011, Halachoulis added.
Juracek thanked both men for sharing their views and praised the work of the village's police and fire departments.
However, she noted that the village's police pension costs went up from about $1 million in 2002 to almost $3 million in 2012. For firefighters, costs jumped from just over $1 million in 2002 to $2.5 million in 2012.
"Essentially, what we think has happened is that there were, we'll call them, sweeteners," she said. "We don't mean that in a pejorative way."