Dozens of DuPage County Forest Preserve District employees may get the chance to retire early through a program that would allow the district to restructure and eventually save an estimated $1 million a year.
Forest preserve commissioners are expected to decide Tuesday whether to adopt an early retirement incentive program through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
If approved, the program would take effect Aug. 31 and allow eligible employees who are at least 50 years old and have at least 20 years of service credit with IMRF to purchase up to five years of additional credit before retiring.
Forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti said the program is a tool that could be used to change the district's operational structure.
"This would give some of the long-term employees who have been here for over 20 years the opportunity to leave gracefully," Pierotti said. "At the same time, it enables the executive director and the board of commissioners to redesign and streamline the entire workforce."
The early retirement proposal was developed after Executive Director Arnie Biondo and other senior staff members considered ways to reduce costs and enhance the long-term financial outlook of the district.
Biondo said IMRF rules allow the district to offer an early retirement incentive program once every 10 years. The last time the district did that was in 2004.
He said it makes sense to offer early retirements now because the district is transitioning from acquiring a lot of land to restoring and managing that land.
The early retirement proposal has the potential to have a positive impact on the district's long-term financial outlook, officials say. It also would give the district "added flexibility in terms of operating effectiveness."
Of the more than 300 people employed by the forest preserve, about 65 would be eligible for the program. It's assumed 26 of the eligible employees may decide to participate, officials said.
The positions of people who leave would be eliminated, restructured or rehired at lower pay, officials said.
As a result, the district could reduce its operating costs by about $1 million a year if 26 employees retired early.
But in order for the program to happen, the employees who participate and the district both would need to contribute to pay for it.
It's estimated the district would have to pay $4 million to $5 million to have 26 employees participate.
Instead of property tax dollars, officials said, the district's contributions would be financed through earned interest or other options.
Biondo says the district has a fund with more than $35 million in past interest earned from the roughly $220 million earmarked for potential environmental remediation at two now-closed landfills, Greene Valley near Naperville and Mallard Lake near Bloomingdale and Hanover Park.
"That's public money, but it's not property tax money at all," Biondo said.
If the district dips into the earned interest fund, it would use money from future interest to repay the fund.
"We believe we could recoup our costs within four to five years and reduce operating expenses by about $1 million annually after that," Biondo said.
In a written summary for commissioners, officials said the early retirement incentive program could have a positive impact on employee morale because remaining workers may see opportunities for career development and advancement.