THE ISSUE: Pension actuary to present to Streator City Council
OUR VIEW: A good chance to listen and learn about a complex challenge
One of the most pressing issues in municipal government takes center stage Thursday afternoon in Streator.
At 3 p.m. in City Hall, the Streator City Council will conduct a study session on pension obligations and the potential use of community service officers to fulfill some of the duties of the Streator Police Department.
The latter is a less complicated component: if the city can hire CSOs, it can make do with fewer police officers. And CSOs, for now, don’t participate in the same pension program as conventional police officers.
It’s that police pension program, as well as the one for firefighters, that’s causing problems throughout the state. Many local governments — not just in Streator — have determined the annual contributions to those pension funds are increasing at an unsustainable rate, either in terms of raw dollars or as a percentage of overall budgeting. That puts the elected officials in the position of either raising more tax revenue or cutting the budget elsewhere to make sure the obligations are met.
As we’ve noted before, frustration about why the issue can’t just be solved is partly attributable to the inability to isolate a primary cause.
Like all retirement funding, public or private, the answer to “how much do you need to live on?” can’t really be answered without knowing how long someone is going to live. Even if you could answer both questions, planning isn’t just a matter of setting aside money every month. The money saved is invested and expected to grow, and if those investments don’t pan out as expected, more capital is needed.
When we’re dealing with emergency responders like police and firefighters, there’s a double whammy of younger retirement ages than the white collar sector and the likelihood of job-related injuries that can linger long after the end of watch.
And further, this is Illinois, where state lawmakers set the rules on what public worker unions can negotiate into a contract or how employees can qualify for different pension benchmarks, but the chief responsibility for making ends meet falls upon the local taxing bodies.
So don’t expect Thursday’s session to deliver magic solutions for Streator or anywhere else. The good news is the actuarial firm leading the talks, Foster & Foster, is both experienced and impartial. The Naperville-based outfit handles about 80 other police and fire pension funds throughout Illinois, and in Streator both the funds and the city agreed to retain the firm’s services, signaling a welcome cooperation in a frequently frosty relationship.
We encourage citizens who are available to attend, listen and learn. We repeat and echo the gratitude for the police and fire department employees throughout our readership area who make the health and safety of their communities a top priority, and likewise understand the goal of our elected and appointed officials who are trying to maintain affordable tax rates for everyone.
If there were easy answers, the problem would’ve been solved long ago. But in Streator the careful conversation continues, and that’s certainly preferable to passing the buck to a future generation.