Clare Kelly.

Members of Evanston’s Finance and Budget Committee Tuesday evening debated how to close the city’s public safety pension funding gap.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) proposed a model that purports to shelter homeowners and other property taxpayers from having to pick up the tab for the increased payments needed over the next 18 years to close the funding gap.

She called for adding Personal Property Replacement Tax funds from the state and money from prior year budget surpluses to the property tax levy that now funds the pensions.

But the PPRT money now is used for other purposes and there’s no guarantee the city will have budget surpluses in future years — so her plan likely would require spending cuts elsewhere in the budget — or increases in other city taxes and fees — to work.

David Livingston.

Committee Chair David Livingston, on the other hand, is proposing to keep the property tax levy unchanged in next year’s budget, close the gap for that year with some mix of PPRT and budget surplus funds and then work out a longer term public safety pension funding policy by the end of this year.

Given that the police and fire departments serve all city residents — regardless of whether they are homeowners — it’s not clear why property taxpayers alone should be exempted from picking up the pension funding shortfall tab — but homeowners do tend to turn out to vote in local elections at higher rates than other residents.

The city’s pension actuary firm, Foster and Foster, has estimated that closing the pension funding gap, assuming a 6.5% return on investments, will require spending about $6 million more per year on pension fund contributions than the $25 million the city is contributing this year.

But the projections show that once the funding gap is closed the required contributions would drop to a total of less than $5 million a year by 2042.

So the long term benefit to future city taxpayers appears to be very dramatic.

The public safety pension funds have been hovering around a 50% funding level in recent years, despite previous, less dramatic efforts by the City Council to increase contributions.

The committee is scheduled to continue its pension funding plan discussion at its next meeting in June.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I am a homeowner in Evanston, and I think homeowners should participate in funding pensions. If that were not the case then homeowner-voters would be indifferent to allowing the city to allow the pension debt get even higher than it already is, which is fiscally dangerous.

    1. I agree with Skeptic but feel that the non-profits benefit equally with property owners and should pay their share though that may not be legally possible.
      Also, Don suggests bankruptcy as a possibility (anything is legally possible, even in Illinois, if you can get the court to agree) but bankruptcy involves not paying the creditors which are, in this case, police, fire fighters, etc. Doubt there is much support for doing that even if it were possible. All this is a very difficult question which prior Evanston councils have kicked down the road to us. It sounds like David Livingston is closest to the right track.

    2. I’m a homeowner, and I can’t understand the view that homeowners should be spared pension increases. Most homeowners are eligible to vote, and had the opportunity to remove elected representatives, if they did not agree with the pensions being promised in union contracts. They can also sell the house and move to a place with low taxes and limited services and amenities.

  2. Unlike states, municipalities can enter bankruptcy to shed or re-value pension obligations if needed.

  3. How to close the gap?
    – Defund and reallocate monies for reparations to the pension.
    – Reallocate pot revenue to the pension.
    – Stop spending on frivolous non profits.
    – Reallocate monies spent on DEI initiatives.
    – Reallocate unspent Covid education funds by the government to the pension.

    We wonder why other communities don’t have this issue- simple. They prioritize the well being of their citizens by supporting past and current PD,FD and those that serve to protect us.

    Stop with the frivolous agenda based spending. Do what’s right.
    But then again, Evanston- the big city by the lake is too mired in a political agenda… that’s proving to serve no one. The decline continues. Evanston, the little Chicago. Dem run and dem destroy.

    1. To Reality above – all awesome points – I add the following –

      – No more consultants. If staff can’t do these jobs themselves we need different staff.
      – No money to guaranteed income experiments

      Let’s start running the city as a city instead of running a social justice/woke experiment.

      1. Right on brother.

        Please run for mayor! You got my vote.
        We need a common sense to mayor right this ship.

        Evanston is listing too much to the left, and about to capsized.

  4. Let’s demand in negotiations with NU that they pay their fair share for firefighters and police services that they use for free without paying a cent for them INCLUDING in advance for that football field concert venue stadium. When we talk about needing to fund the pension plans, let’s look to who uses those services for free.

    1. Hi Henry,
      You neglect to mention that NU operates its own police department and that EMS services to the campus are covered by insurance reimbursements. Also that NU occasionally covers the cost of new fire department vehicles for the city.
      — Bill

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