Illinois lawmakers create pension problems for cities

Posted: Jan. 5, 2017 12:05 pm

To The Herald Whig:

Last month, the Quincy City Council had a robust discussion on the funding of our police and fire pension funds. This is a discussion that comes around once a year and does not look to end anytime soon.

Public safety pension costs for municipalities continue to rise with no end in sight.

Why? The state Legislature mandates that police and fire pension funds be 90 percent funded by 2041, and if cities do not keep making minimum payments to get to that level, their state shared revenue will be taken away. This has caused a funding ramp that is unsustainable and hurts taxpayers.

Thanks to mandates at the state level, mayors and city councils seem to only have a few options up their sleeves -- either reducing services or raising taxes -- and neither is a good solution for our constituents.

Quincy has continued to fight the good fight to properly fund our pensions.

Past mayors and councils chose to fund above the required minimum when they could afford it, revenue from the Ameren franchise agreement and video gaming have been directed toward pension payments, and, most recently, reserves have been used to avoid a property tax increase.

What is the result? In 2011 our total public safety pension payments totaled $4 million; next year that will climb to nearly $6 million. Despite that increased investment, our funding ratio has decreased.

Quincy is not alone in this struggle. Over the last three years, Galesburg has realized an increase in $2 million in its recommended police and fire pension payments. This has resulted in higher property taxes and reduced public safety staffing.

Danville has implemented a public safety fee on property owners, reduced firefighter positions by 27 percent and recently voted to close a fire station. Yet its pension funds are only about 30 percent funded.

According to Bloomberg News, less than half of the local retirement plans are 60 percent funded.

Leaders from municipalities and statewide public safety unions have all proposed common-sense reforms.

It is imperative Springfield enacts robust, comprehensive public safety pension reforms before cities across Illinois are forced to tax their way out of competitiveness or drastically reduce the quality of life offered to residents.

Kyle A. Moore

Quincy mayor

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