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Local News

Pension crisis hitting close to home

Coalition calls for changes in local police and fire pensions

The ballooning cost of police and fire pensions doesn’t start and stop in Chicago.

That’s according to Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities, a coalition of Illinois mayors who last week called on state lawmakers to make changes to their fire and police funds to help rein in skyrocketing pension obligations.

The coalition’s push comes on the heels of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asking state lawmakers to approve a pension reform plan to help bail out city pensions.

The coalition released a statement saying the escalating pension payments plaguing Chicago are similar to those affecting local governments, particularly with police and fire pensions.

Steve Quigley, executive director for Will County Governmental League, which is part of the coalition, said municipalities and taxpayers are expected to foot the bill even though state lawmakers signed off on those benefit packages.

“If you’re locked into these obligations and you don’t have any wiggle room, at some point, where does the line get drawn?” Quigley said. “There are communities where the lion’s share, if not all, of their property taxes are just going to pay for police and fire pensions and other services suffer as a result.”

Joliet is among Illinois municipalities facing a pension funding crises, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a legislative budget analyst. The city’s police and fire pension obligations are projected to jump from $25 million in 2013 to more than $33 million by 2024 and to more than $51 million by 2045.

Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante, a retired firefighter, said there are no easy answers to reform.

“When police and firefighters were hired, they were told their pensions were going to be this, this and this,” he said. “To change the benefits for those that are working and those on pensions is changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

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