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Pension sweetener hits sour note for some

Worried about the potential cost, Evanston aldermen postponed action this week on a plan that would let city workers from out-of-state boost their pension benefits.

Under state law, if the city agrees, workers covered by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund could qualify for up to ten years worth of extra pension credits for work at municipalities in other states.

Worried about the potential cost, Evanston aldermen postponed action this week on a plan that would let city workers from out-of-state boost their pension benefits.

Under state law, if the city agrees, workers covered by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund could qualify for up to ten years worth of extra pension credits for work at municipalities in other states.

The employees would have to pay the employee contribution portion of the pension credits — but it would be up to the city to make up the city’s share of the cost for those extra years.

To qualify, the employees must have cashed out of their previous pension programs and no longer be eligible for benefits from the out-of-state plans.

A memo from the city’s director of administrative services, Joellen Daley, said the city contribution would be "made through future contribution rates" so no immediate additional payment by the city would be required.

Daley said approving the plan would help the city recruit new workers from out of state.

But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, in an interview with Evanston Now today, said she "doesn’t see an upside for the city."

"We already attract workers from other states," Burrus added, noting that Daley herself had been recruited from Catawba County, N.C.

Tim Schoolmaster, a trustee of the city’s Police Pension Board, said the proposal would amount to a giveaway to top-level city workers. He noted that police and firefighters, who are covered by separate pension systems, aren’t eligible for the out-of-state service credits.

Schoolmaster said that if the city is to seriously consider the proposal, it needs to hire an outside actuary to calculate the true long-range cost of the program.

He said the last time the city offered pension incentives, for its early retirement program two years ago, initial estimates were that it would cost $7 million, but it has ended up already costing $13 million, because more workers than anticipated took advantage of the deal.

Roughly half the city’s department heads and an unknown number of lower-level city employees might qualify for the pension buy-in plan, because they previously worked for municipalities out of state.

In addition to Daley and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, they include Parks Director Doug Gaynor, Library Director Mary Johns and Community Development Director Lehman Walker.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons today said that because the council has a pretty full agenda for its next couple of meetings, it may be a month or more before the staff comes back with more details about the pension proposal. He declined to offer any estimate of what the program might cost the city.

The department heads, but not other city workers, were required to take a five percent pay cut as one of the measures used to balance the city budget adopted last month.

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