Barrington question targets pensions

Posted1/26/2010 12:01 AM

It may end up hidden on a back page, but Barrington voters will be presented with an advisory referendum question regarding pension reform on the Feb. 2 primary ballot.

That may come as a surprise to some residents due to the total absence of campaigning for or against the referendum.

Though the question asks about the need to reform the pension system for firefighters and police officers statewide, only Barrington and Lake Forest voters will see the referendum. It was the brainchild of Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely and later adopted by Barrington.

The questions asks, "Shall the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor take immediate steps to implement meaningful pension reform which will relieve the unsustainable burden on local taxpayers?"

Pensions have become an issue for Barrington officials due to what they say are their rising costs that don't accommodate all the other financial responsibilities a municipality bears.

Village President Karen Darch said the reform that's envisioned is nothing that would affect those already earning or collecting pensions. Instead, it would create a more fiscally responsible retirement system for the next generation of firefighters and police.

But Darch said Barrington is permitted only to publicize the upcoming referendum, not campaign for it.

"The village can't take an advocacy role, we can only educate," she said.

While there is no organized campaign against the referendum, retired Barrington police officer James McNamee calls it "meaningless" and without opportunity for victory for any side of the pension debate.

McNamee is founder and president of the Illinois Pension Fund Association, which was formed in 1985 by police officers serving as pension trustees.

While describing himself as in favor of informed pension reform, he said it's irresponsible for officials to put an issue too complicated for most of them to understand to the public.

Furthermore, the wording of the question is rigged, he said.

McNamee says Illinois does have a flawed pension system that was put in place in 1993 by the naiveté of elected officials at that time. But it's only a properly educated state legislature that can correct the problem, and that's what his association is working toward.

"Illinois is the only state that uses this actuarial formula, because it is considered unsound," McNamee said.