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Aldermen eye giving themselves pensions

Aldermen on Evanston's Human Services Committee Monday asked the city's law department to determine whether they could qualify for pensions from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

Aldermen on Evanston's Human Services Committee Monday asked the city's law department to determine whether they could qualify for pensions from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

The decision was prompted by a request from Township Assessor Bonnie Wilson that the City Council adopt a resolution that would allow her to qualify for an IMRF pension.

The resolution requires the local governing body to certify that the official to receive the pension works a minimum of 600 or 1,000 hours per year and that the governing body sets the number of hours the official is required to work.

Wilson is paid $8,000 a year for the part-time assessor's position and has claimed in her request for pension program participation that she works a minimum of 800 hours a year on the job.

But as an elected official, she sets her own schedule and it does not appear that the aldermen, acting as township trustees, have previously set any requirements for the number of hours a township assessor would be expected to work.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, "This is my sixth year [on the council] and I have never heard anything about any pension benefits. Why haven't we had that if it's a possibility?"

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said, "I think we need something in writing on this. We need a report on it." The issue had come to the committee as a discussion item with no supporting documentation.

Former Township Assessor Sharon Eckersall, who lost a bitter election battle with Wilson two years ago, appeared at the meeting to support her successor's pension request, in hopes it would also affect her.

"It would be wonderful if something can be done" about pension benefits for the assessor, Eckersall said, "but for 11 years I tried and got nowhere because my salary was too low. And the mayor and aldermen were turned down as well."

Municipal employees now must have 10 years of service to qualify for a pension, up from 8 years as a result of a legislative change last year.

But employees can make retroactive payments to cover at least 50 months of their eligibility period.

The city has to match employee contributions to the IMRF pension program. Currently employees pay 4.5 percent of their salary, the city pays 9.36 percent.

High pension costs for city workers have been a frequent issue of concern to the aldermen as they've tried to balance recent city budgets.

And city officials have lobbied in Springfield to persuade the legislature to reduce the burden of pension programs on municipalities.

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