Highland Park News

Mayor seeks 'trigger' alert to pension padding

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Highland Park Mayor Michael D. Belsky is proposing broader local and statewide reform concerning governmental pension and financial practices in response to the Park District's festering pay-and-pension controversy.

Belsky announced last week that he will first draft a written proposal to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund requesting a "trigger" mechanism to alert authorities when irregularities appear in a taxing body's pension payments.

A government's annual contribution to the pension system is based on its number of employees and their salaries. If a change in obligations is found above a set level, Belsky explained, the attorney general's office should be notified to investigate.

"There must be a way to be alerted to any potential padding or when compensation is given that's out of the ordinary," Belsky said. "That's what happened here (with the Park District)."

IMRF does audit each member on a regular basis, Belsky noted, but explained that this approach may provide an early warning to pension spiking.

Belsky's proposal also asks for a consolidated repository website for each government to post its most recent operating budget, capital budget, recent official statements from bond offerings, rating agency research reports, annual financial reports, actuarial reports and any interim financial reports relating to an entity's financial condition.

The city, which already offers a "Know Your City's Finances" Web page, has recently added its senior executive's compensations packages to its website, www.cityhpil.com.

"This can be a one-stop shopping place so people can see how their governments are doing financially," said Belsky, who pointed out that residents continue to blame city officials for the Park District controversy. "I think all other governments should do the same."

Belsky's proposal also calls for the implementation of citizen-centric financial statements, which allow residents to better understand how expenditures relate to outcomes in productivity and capital improvements.

"Financial statements are very complex," he said. "We have many funds and many bottom lines so it's very hard for someone to assess how a government is doing. Citizen-centric reports make it easier.

"They show the outcomes," Belsky explained. "How many streets were upgraded? What's the norm for the amount we spent? Did we get enough for our dollar compared to other municipalities? If we bought road salt, did accidents go down?

"I'm trying to be proactive and preventative in the future and I think this will help do it," Belsky summarized. "I want to make sure nothing like what happened with the Park District happens again.

"Not only for our community but for others, too."