Pension reform tops Naperville's state agenda

 
 

With Naperville Councilmen generally pleased with their work in the last year, state legislators representing the city were given a hearty "atta boy" and a pat on the back and told to get back to work.

City officials sat down Tuesday afternoon with state Sen. Tom Johnson and state representatives Darlene Senger, Mike Connelly and Mike Fortner to discuss the city's legislative agenda for the coming session.

For the second consecutive year, pension reform tops the list of fights the city wants its legislative leaders to tackle.

Last year they passed changes to the way pension funds for municipal employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011 are funded. This year they've got their sights set on changes to the current pension systems.

"From the council, there is definite support for looking at ways to phase in or implement changes to the existing pension systems, specifically noting defined contributions," said Dan DiSanto, assistant to the city manager, who moderated the conversation.

A DuPage Mayors and Managers proposal, supported by the city, includes provisions allowing public safety pension boards, like those for police officers and firefighters, to voluntarily invest in the statewide Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and a study on the possibility of consolidating the more than 400 police and fire pension funds in Illinois to a single fund to cut administrative costs.

Senger, a Naperville Republican, vowed to fight for a bill she recently drafted that allows employees to either pay increased contributions, join the newly passed, more restrictive plan or designate a pay grade at which they would cease pension contributions and begin contributing to a 401(k) plan.

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"We have to get something done," said Senger, who campaigned for her second term on reforming the pension system. "If we don't, no one will have a pension at all."

Connelly, a Lisle Republican, agreed, calling the system "unsustainable."

The city's second priority, dubbed "priority 1(a)," is a set of changes to the interest arbitration process, which is used to end labor disputes between municipalities and public safety employees who are prohibited from striking.

Legislators warned the council that while pension reform is an issue across the nation, changes to the interest based bargaining rules would likely take "groundswell" from several municipalities to get the state's attention.

"The reform we're looking for would take into account more the municipality's ability to pay," DiSanto said. "That's important to be considered."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Council members and legislators proposed language similar to that on the books in Wisconsin and New Jersey that require an arbiter to do just that.

"Look at what has happened in the last 36 months and certainly the last 18 months on public safety benefits and salaries. It ought to be on all our radar screens," said Councilman James Boyajian. "Because they are getting out of line with what is going on in the rest of the municipalities and certainly the private sector."

An extension of the Wireless Emergency Telephone Safety Act, from which the city collects about $1 million from taxes on cell phones and landlines to fund the city's 911 service and will sunset in 2013, was also added to the priority list.

DiSanto said the city has had the issue on the list in previous years and had it rebuffed by Springfield until closer to the sunset date. Senger said Tuesday she has recently filed for the extension again.

Council members will formally approve the list of priorities during their. Feb. 1 meeting.

Connelly said the legislators will be ready.

"Your voice rings loud in Springfield," he said. "Both sides of the aisle know when Naperville is in Springfield."