Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, is absolutely right to point out increased risks as local officials reduce fire department staffing. Maintaining public safety is the most crucial function of government, so it is critical to prevent cutting emergency personnel as need increases.
However, Devaney fails to note the real cause of pressures on fire staffing head counts. Public officials are not neglecting to "prioritize the safety of its citizens" -- they are handcuffed by unsustainable retirement rules and pension funding requirements that are crippling local government budgets. Firefighters are not directly to blame. This is ultimately a failure of state leaders to courageously own up to the overpromises they have made to public employees on behalf of state and local taxpayers.
While Palatine has not yet been forced to reduce the number of staff to the proportions of nearby Elgin, this year Palatine raised its property tax levy 3.82 percent, with the majority of that additional money going to fund local fire and police pensions. None of this will go to increasing the number of on-duty firefighters or police officers. And shifting burdens to taxpayers will continue absent reforms from the state legislature. According to the NWMC, suburban communities have been forced to increase contributions to local pension plans 58 percent since 2010, while remaining abysmally below the 60 percent funding mark.
For those who deny the severity of our pension problem, reality is encroaching. Whether we fight for a constitutional amendment to allow pension reforms or move new workers into 401(k) style plans (both are solutions I have espoused), the only way forward is to recognize that we all have an interest in real change, because the safety of our communities is on the line.
State Rep. Tom Morrison