Editorial: Moving toward better balance of worker benefits, taxpayer affordability

  • DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners are ratcheting down end-of-career bonus programs and pay for unused sick time.

    DuPage County Forest Preserve commissioners are ratcheting down end-of-career bonus programs and pay for unused sick time. Daily Herald File Photo

 

The public pension crisis in Illinois is a runaway train. So when we see someone actually try to apply the brakes, we take notice.

The DuPage County Forest Preserve District this week approved a sweeping series of changes to its employee pay policies that leaders predict will save the county $6 million over the next 20 years.

That might not seem like a lot of money, but it's not chump change. What it is is an important step in the right direction.

Just think of how this could mushroom if similar steps were taken in many of the other 6,900-plus taxing bodies in Illinois.

A story today by staff writer Robert Sanchez lays out how forest preserve commissioners have decided to ratchet down an established bonus program and also put the brakes on lump-sum payouts to qualifying or retiring employees for unused sick time.

"These changes will curb long-term spending, especially in the area of pension costs," Commissioner Commissioner Jeff Redick said, "and allow us to responsibly serve the taxpayers and both our current and future employees."

The district for years has handed out longevity-based bonuses to retiring or qualifying employees that averaged $15,000 to $20,000.

You don't find that in a lot of private-sector jobs. Not anymore.

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Nor do you find many companies that still -- if ever -- reimburse employees for unused sick time.

The district isn't going to take money from people already expecting it.

Like companies that have eliminated their 401(k) contributions in lean times, those employees who already are in the bonus program -- called a "retention incentive" program -- will still get bonuses, but starting Jan. 1 they no longer will grow. Those who haven't yet qualified for the bonus program never will.

The district also is putting limits on lump-sum payments for sick days accrued after the start of next year.

What is even more important is that the forest preserve district has decided to eliminate both the bonus and sick time payback from the calculation of pensions.

That in itself is expected to save $4.5 million in pension liability over the next 20 years.

In a time when pension payments in some cases are reaching a tipping point with operational costs for governmental bodies, it's important to look toward ways in which the private sector has managed to stay afloat in tough financial times.

Other taxing bodies should follow this example.

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