Evanston Alderman Don Wilson says a public safety pension bill now on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn is “better than nothing” but is not a solution for the pension funding crisis facing Evanston and other cities.

Evanston Alderman Don Wilson says a public safety pension bill now on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn is “better than nothing” but is not a solution for the pension funding crisis facing Evanston and other cities.

The pension bill, passed by the state Senate today and approved by the House earlier this week, makes no changes in pensions for firefighters and police officers already on the job.

But it would raise the age for employees hired starting next year to get full benefits from 50 to 55 and make it harder for them to boost their pensions with late-career pay hikes.

Wilson, 4th Ward, says the state needs to move toward a 401(k) style system — so that taxpayers aren’t required to insure the workers against shortfalls in investment returns.

The system now “puts all the risk on city taxpayers,” Wilson said, and the new bill does nothing to change that.

Another provision of the legislation would let pension funds seize income tax dollars due cities if the towns underfund pension plans. The Illinois Municipal Leauge has said that provision could force towns to dramatically raise taxes or gut services.

Wilson said, “I don’t want us to end up ever in the position that revenue that’s expected to come in from the state somehow gets intercepted.”

He noted that the state’s failure to make timely payments to communities and to non-profits providing social services is already straining budgets in Evanston and other communities.

Wilson said it’s not yet clear how much the city might save as a result of the higher retirement age for new hires. But given that only about 3 percent of the city’s public safety staff retires each year, the benefit, at least in the next few years, would be very modest.

A Chicago Tribune report Sunday said Evanston’s fire and police pension funds rank in the bottom 10 percent of 351 suburban funds in term of how high a percentage of expected benefits they’ve set aside.

Evanston’s fire pension fund has 36.1 percent of the needed funds set aside and its police pension fund has 35.4 percent.

Both numbers have dropped significantly as a result of poor stock market performance in recent years, at the same time the city has been dramatically increasing its pension fund contributions.

Wilson said residents with concerns about cuts in funding for city programs need to start talking to state lawmakers about making more substantial reforms in the pension programs. Springfield, he said “has so much control over what we’re able, or not able to do.”

“The next decade or two are going to be really tough for the city,” Wilson said. “If we can get the economy turned around, that will help, but even then we can’t go on a spending spree.” 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Lets deal with the real issue- about Pensions and employment

    Rather than crying about what the state is doing – daal with the number of employees in the police and fire departments getting those pensions. That means hiring contractors, and part timers and those you do not have to pay pensions. That also goes for the city staff that are members of IMRF, why did we hire a lobbyist, more employees for 311, s volunteer coordinator, and various other positions? Deal with what you can control – not what the state controls!

  2. Pension shortfall

     Kind of ironic that municipal worker unions lobby like crazy for guaranteed benefit pensions.  They think it’s better to take a promise inked only on paper than to take the cash today and put it aside in a 401k.   Gonna be a lot of long faces when the well runs dry, which is coming very soon.

  3. Alderman should practice what he preaches

    It’s ironic that Alderman Don Wilson, who received the Democrat party’s endorsement and union campaign contributions,  wants a solution to the pension crisis, proposing a 401k style plan.

    Consider: This year Wilson:

    1) Approved an agreement with the Evanston Fire Union to rehire three Evanston firefighters that were briefly laid off and allow a third party arbritator to decide whether Evanston can layoff any  firefighters in the future. In exchange, the Evanston Fire Union agreed to drop an unfair labor practice lawsuit. You can decide who got the best end of the deal. As you do, imagine trying to operate an organization and someone outside of it gets to tell you whether you can reduce staff in hard economic times. Betcha the Evanston police and city employee unions will want the same agreement.

    2) Approved a budget that allows no reduction in overtime for firefighters and all union employees still get merit pay raises.

    3) Approved a new 311 Call Center that will hire 20 new employees – ALL UNIONIZED!!!

    4) Approved tax levies that will increase the property tax burden for the general fund and police and fire pension funds by 3.46 percent.

    Granted, the city for the first time during the fourth year of a severe recession laid off 42 employees, most not all were union members.  But Wilson and other Aldermen voted for property and gas tax increases, hikes in water and electric rates and increased the unnecessary and duplicative Township Assessor’s budget by 80 percent.

    The Evanston City Council, all Democrats, now step in and prevent landlords from trying to rent out vacant storefronts to churches and an adult daycare. Yet, the Council provides no meaningful alternative but to let these storefront remain vacant. Then, the City Council this year buys up several properties for hundredsd of thousands of dollars with no specific plan in mind and some of these properties did not sell on the open market. Since when did the financially hard pressed City of Evanston get into the real estate business? Let’s not forget the city’s recent campaign to attack the longstanding garbage transfer station, Veoila.

    What are you so angry about Mr. Wilson? The Democrats in Springfield are listening to their constituents, the government union employees who marched en masse on Springfield in April, demanding a tax raise.  The unions will get it as our income taxes will go up by 33 percent as Democrats borrowed another $4 billion to fund another year of government union pensions. Cook County has the highest sales tax in the nation, thanks to the Democrat political machine that gave us the Stroger, Daley, Madigan, Emil Jones and Jr, and Jackson dynasties who treat government as a family business..

    You and your Democrat brethren on the City Council are doing the same thing Demcorats in Springfield are doing but just on a smaller scale. It’s interesting to note that on the political spectrum, Democrats at every government level received almost 90 percent of all union campaign donations. Gee Mr. Wilson, I wonder why?

    It’s ironic how Wilson now champions a 401k style plan for government union employees. That is something statehouse Republicans and Republican governor candidate Bill Brady have been calling for. Brady three years ago sponsored a bill that would have switched CTA pensions to a 401k plan but the Democrats in power quickly killed that bill.

    Now that the state is heading for fiscal disaster Democrat poliicians are blaming each other and eating their own to fight for scraps.  

    Yes Mr. Wilson, you’re a fierce warrior for the Evanston taxpayer and a relentless union buster – NOT.

    As long as Democrats remain in power in Springfield, Cook County, Chicago and Evanston, there will be no hope and "the next decade or two are going to be really tough for the city."

    Our fate lies in the VOTER’s hands.

    1. Facts

      It is interesting how easy it is to simply post a series of statements or opinions which pose as facts.  Mr. Smith has accurately reported my views on this issue, but as for Anonymous Al’s comments, it is apparent that he does not know me, and he appears to know little about me.  

      I was not "endorsed" by the "Democratic Party".  I also did not receive any union campaign contributions.  In fact, it was one of my opponents who received the endorsement of the firefighters.  Al also appears to have missed what I have publicly stated with regard to churches, and he has no idea what my position is on the storefronts referenced.  This will be my only post on this, but, I invite anyone who is interested to get in touch with me directly and I would be happy to discuss any of these issues personally.  

      Don Wilson, Alderman, 4th Ward 

      1. Facts II

        Mr. Wilson,

        It appears I was wrong about you getting union campaign donations, although you didn’t file a financial disclosure report, or a Democrat party endorsement. My apologies.

        However, you were endorsed by Democrats Julie Hamos, retiring 4th ward alderman Steve Bernstein and Jan Schakowsky. Schakowsky as you know is a loyal supporter of union causes.

        Why just a few years back, Schakowsky used her political office to muscle in a referendum to back a union effort to take away the non-profit status of St. Francis Hospital. This was done because the Resurrection Hospital system, which St. Francis is a part of, refuses to unionize. It was a strong-armed tactic by Schakowsky and the unions to force Resurrection to unionize. Thankfully, Evanston voters didn’t fall for the ploy..

        Any link to Schakowsky in my mind is a link to union causes.

        Yes, you’ve acknowledged the reason why landlords are renting out to churches but I haven’t heard any strong opposition from you on the proposed  zoning changes that would create a special use for churches in commercial districts. Nor have I heard any alarm bells from you or any council member about the seemingly anti-business sentiment eminating from Council chambers.

        You could have easily in a few sentences explain your positions on the storefront issue to clarify. But you didn’t.

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