The Doings

La Grange will ask voters to push for pension reform

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

La Grange has joined Oak Brook, Downers Grove and a growing list of municipalities putting the question of statewide pubic safety pension reform to voters Nov. 2.

The Village Board approved Monday placing an advisory referendum proposal on the ballot, following a board resolution in February urging the General Assembly to consider pension reform measures.

Drafted by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and other municipal associations, the question before voters will be to ask whether the state should implement meaningful public safety pension reform to relieve the burden on taxpayers.

"Even though the village has already submitted a letter recommending this, the benefit of submitting it to voters will get the politicians' attention much more than from us," said Village Board member Bill Holder. "We're using this as a vehicle to send the message even more loudly."

Board member Mark Kuchler said the village can't continue spending $1.5 million annually to fund pensions, or half of the $3 million budgeted for public safety salaries.

"That is not sustainable," Kuchler said. "No way can La Grange continue to spend 50 percent of what it spends on salaries in pension costs. There are various proposals on what should be done, but it's up to the Legislature to make those decisions without us getting into the specifics."

The village's contribution to funding police and fire pensions has risen steadily from $936,000 in 2007-08 to a projected $1.6 million, or 27.5 percent of the 2010-11 budget. Board member Jim Palermo, who spearheaded village workshops on pension reform earlier this year, said voters in Barrington and Lake Forest passed similar proposals in November with 85 to 90 percent favoring reform.

"Clearly there's an interest in the populace in rendering these severe pension problems," Palermo said.

The Illinois General Assembly recently approved legislation that reduced benefits for future Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund employees, but did not include public safety pensions for firefighters and police officers.

Negotiations with the public safety unions on reform broke down as a bill proposed in the Senate included a provision that required the state to withhold sales and income tax revenue from municipalities that fall below a 50 percent funding level on public safety pensions.