BRAIDWOOD – City officials say police services could be eroded if voters do not pass a referendum to pay extra taxes to fund pensions on Nov. 4.
The referendum asks Braidwood residents to pay an additional 0.2069 percent of their homes’ equalized assessed value to help pay for a retirement fund the city has been supporting for the past 13 years.
That would translate to $207 for a house with an equalized assessed value of $100,000.
The levy is estimated to bring in $225,000 in new taxes that would go straight to a local police pension fund.
“If it doesn’t pass, sooner or later, the police department could close,” said Rich Girot, police chief and city administrator for Braidwood, adding that the police pension fund is only 52 percent funded.
“The only way to pay without the levy is to cut staff,” he said. “First, you cut staff and hours, but eventually you cut the police department.”
If that happens, Girot said 911 calls will be handled by other departments, including county and state police. But they won’t be obligated to patrol the city.
Mayor Bill Rulien said shutting down the department also could affect the economic development of the city.
“A Meijer or other business is not going to build in a town that doesn’t have a valid police department,” he said.
The levy would mean a single family residence having an equalized assessed value of $100,000 would pay an additional $207 in taxes this year.
“I feel like it’s definitely peanuts,” Rulien said. “It’s off the equalized assessed value, not market value. Some people spend $3 to $4 on coffee at Starbucks every day. They should be able to spend quarters on the police department.”
According to city officials, for the past 13 years the city has been paying about $250,000 a year out of its general fund from a $3 million budget to pay for police pensions.
The city has put in more than $2 million into the pensions, but it still owes $1.8 million. Officers and employees on disability will start to dip into their pensions soon, Girot said.
Police pension problem
Girot, the mayor of Braidwood from 1995 to 1999, said the police pension problem started in 2000.
Braidwood exceeded a population of 5,000 in the new census, which meant that the city’s police pensions had to be separated from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and managed locally, according to state law.
In 2001, the city’s attorney sent a letter to city officials advising them to create a local police pension fund with an additional tax levy. That would shift the amount taxpayers pay for police pensions from the IMRF to the new levy.
However, for some reason the city never did it, and was left to foot the pension bill that taxpayers otherwise would have contributed to.
“You can’t keep on taking it out of the general fund,” Rulien said about previous city administrations. “They were trying to get away with kicking the can down the road. But we want to solve this problem.”