The Illinois Municipal League (IML) said some municipalities across the state are waiting for some kind of resolution over a controversial firefighter pension sweetener in Springfield.
While new hires aren’t afforded the benefit, current Springfield firefighters can include holiday pay as part of their pensionable salary. That’s a sweetener that Springfield City Budget Director Bill McCarty said makes it harder for the city to afford other critical services.
“When you only have ‘x’ amount of money to allocate, and you’ve got to send more to police and fire pensions, it’s got to come from a service, or it’s got to come from equipment, or it’s got to come from personnel. It’s got to come from somewhere.”
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The Illinois Department of Insurance issued an opinion to end the perk, but the city’s Fire Pension Board asked the courts to intervene. That case was dismissed. McCarty, who also serves on the pension board, said his attempts to advance a motion to end the practice have gone nowhere.
IML Executive Director Brad Cole said several other towns are looking for some resolution.
“I’m sure this will go back to court to get some final determination because it does have a statewide impact if either side were to prevail,” Cole said.
McCarty said police and fire pensions are about eating up all of the city’s share of property taxes.
Cole said that’s also the case for other cities with similar sweeteners.
“There’s only so much money a community can collect, and in many cases, they are collecting 100 percent of their property tax levy for pension obligations,” Cole said.
Cole said city officials across the state are working to find out how to pay for pension obligations, “and we see what’s happened at the state level. Local level doesn’t have the opportunity to pass the buck. They have to make the decision. They have to make the contribution, and protecting the sound financial status of these funds is the number one task. And that’s tough to do when thebenefits keep increasing, and the contributions stay flat.”
Cole also said state lawmakers should consolidate police and fire pension funds to maximize savings and investment gains.