DuPage mayors step up push for pension reform
DuPage County mayors say they've already waited years for Illinois to address a growing crisis by reforming municipal police and fire pension systems so cities and villages can rein in costs.
Now they want to see progress, especially since state lawmakers have approved a pension overhaul for some Chicago city workers.
"Personally, I was patient until Mayor Rahm Emanuel went to Springfield and showed the rest of the mayors of the state how to get it done," Hanover Park Village President Rodney Craig said. "Then my patience kind of runs out."
Because the General Assembly made pension reform happen for Chicago, Craig said, "I want the same level of commitment to the municipalities of the rest of the state."
On Monday, Craig and other members of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference met with the Daily Herald Editorial Board to insist a state law that reduces pension benefits for police and firefighters is needed to stabilize municipal budgets and prevent pension systems from collapsing.
"One of the fears we have is that if something isn't contained at this point ... those who are approaching retirement or retire later may not have a system to rely on," said Mark Baloga, the executive director of the group.
Conference officials said numbers show the existing structure of public safety pension systems is unsustainable.
Between 2004 and 2010, municipal contributions statewide increased from $247 million to $511 million, according to conference officials. During that time, the average funding level of public safety pension systems decreased from about 64 percent to 55 percent.
"So that's two lines in a graph that are going in the wrong directions," said Martin Tully, mayor of Downers Grove and vice president of the conference. "More and more money is going in, and yet the pensions are becoming less well funded."
Tully said the problem is that contributions being made to the systems can't keep pace with the payouts.
He said one reason payouts are outpacing contributions is the yearly cost-of-living benefit hike. Retirees currently get an annual 3 percent increase that compounds over time.
"Then you start hearing those stories where you have employees making more 10 years or so into retirement than they were on their last day of service," Tully said.
Meanwhile, rising pension costs are putting a financial strain on municipal budgets.
Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski said the village is expecting to collect about $150,000 in new property tax revenue this year. However, the town's pension costs are projected to increase by about $250,000.
"I still have to figure out where I'm going to get that extra $100,000," she said.
To address the problem, conference officials say reforms must be applied to current public safety employees for all future benefit accruals.
Specific changes the conference is proposing include reforming the cost-of-living adjustment, increasing contributions, increasing the retirement age, and increasing the years of work required to receive the maximum pension payment.
"No one with any municipality is begrudging any of our police and firefighters a fair pension in recognition for their service," Tully said. "But we need to make sure that the cost of these pensions is fair to taxpayers and municipalities."
Calls to both the Associated Firefighters of Illinois and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council weren't immediately returned on Monday.
Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois, last week told the Daily Herald that benefits aren't the problem. "I find it interesting that they want to reform the pensions by cutting a promised benefit," he said.