Evanston aldermen this week approved a report that calls for an increase of more than 11 percent next year in taxpayer contributions to the city’s fire and police pension funds.

Aldermen Jean-Baptiste and Wilson had different views on the pension funding issue.

Evanston aldermen this week approved a report that calls for an increase of more than 11 percent next year in taxpayer contributions to the city’s fire and police pension funds.

Aldermen Jean-Baptiste and Wilson had different views on the pension funding issue.

The increase of $1.04 million to the police pension fund and $790,000 to the fire pension fund was the smallest of several options discussed in the report — which reviewed a variety of other choices that could have made the increase as much as nearly 19 percent.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward said the report from the city’s actuarial firm “tells us a grim story, that we’re severely underfunded.”

She called for increasing city contributions to try to close the gap that now shows the city having funded only about 40 percent of its total public safety pension obligations.

But Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “It doesn’t matter how much we put in, thise pensions are unsustainable and we need a political solution from Springfield” that would reduce the amount the city owes.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said the cost to close the pension funding gap would be staggering, but that the report indicates the city is heading in the right direction.

The report in part showed that some other communities whose pension reports show that they have higher pension funding levels are using more optimistic assumptions than Evanston currently uses to judge how big their pension debt actually is.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said that the city needs to balance pensions against its other needs in deciding how much to pay into the pension funds.

But Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said that if the pension issue isn’t fixed, all the other things the city is trying to do — funding libraries and all the rest — won’t make much difference, because the pension debt, left unaddressed, will ultimately consume the rest of the budget.

In the end only Burrus and Wilson voted against accepting the report’s recommendations — indicating they believed the city should further step up its pension contributions.

Related story

Aldermen to spin pension wheel again
 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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48 Comments

  1. City Services and NU

    What is the current status of NU receiving — and possibly paying for? — City of Evanston police and firefighting services?  Since town-gown relations are reputedly more favorable than in years past, perhaps the university might consider a financial contribution as a show of support for these services from its host city?

  2. What?

    Can someone, anyone explain why the City is in such trouble with the pension funding?

    Since the City has not been able to solve it, I suspect no one involved understands the cause of the problem.

    1. Pension problem

      Simple.

      Our state legislatures gave away the store to public employees.(good contributors)

      The City Council hired a hack actuary, was sued by the Police fund, and won on a technicality and ignored the warning for over a decade.  Our past Councils, along with this, relished pouring money into "feel good" projects and obviously never had a finance course or knew what was a budget.

      You pay….

      End of story.

       

    2. There are many reasons for the pension funding problem…

      …The Blue Ribbon Pension Committee published a report in October 2008 discussing the reasons, since then the problem has worsened – why ?

      First – I and everyone in Evanston appreciates the work and efforts of all Firemen and Policemen. The issue is not about their performance, the pension fund issue is a financial and economic issue.

      Three primary reasons the unfunded liability increased from $158 mm to $175 mm over last couple of years :

      1) rate of return on investments is less than expected – financial markets have been very difficult last couple of years to say the least

      2) wage growth for firemen and policemen has increased at a faster than expected rate

      3) retired firemen and policemen are living longer than expected

      There are several other issues to consider – due to historical legal arrangements, Springfield is able to pass legislation impacting fire and police pension funds, but isn’t accountable for funding them – so what happened ? Our legislative body passed pension laws allowing for guaranteed 3% annual COLA’s – Cost of Living Increases, they allowed Police and Fireman to retire at a younger age, they lowered the number of years you had to work to collect a pension, Pension spiking occurs(see recent articles re: Chicago Ridge Police articles in July 2010 or Highland Park’s Park & Recreation pension fiasco) Basically, Springfield gets lobbied from the unions and can dole out the candy without having to pay the bill.

      The municipalities, including Evanston, have "kicked the can down the road" by abrogating their fiscal responsibility. How is this done ? First, they skipped pension payments – Evanston is guilty as charged and so are other communities(State of Illinois is a major offender). Second, and not so obvious is that the actuarial assumptions have been too aggressive. Just read the recent actuarial reports and you will see that Evanston Fire and Police pension plans were "supposed" to earn 7.25% on their investments and actually earned about 4%. Wages were assumed to grow 5% and they grew about 6% and the list goes on and on. These shortfalls have a major compounding impact, and when this occurs year after year, the unfunded liability skyrockets. What’s the alternative under current legislation? Pay the full price for the services we’re using – BUT then the $16 mm we’re paying in the budget for pensions goes north of $ 20 mm – where do you get the additional           $ 4mm ? Raise taxes or you take it away from another part of the budget – not an easy answer, so you revert back to the smoke and mirrors approach and use aggressive actuarial assumptions.

      Key issue – How do we fix the problem? Not an easy fix, no Botox, diet pill or hangover medicine exists to do the trick. This requires a difficult "shared sacrifice" from all parties. Many people have benefited, but now all people must contribute. Taxpayers will be required to pay more tax dollars to fund the pensions (either raise taxes or cut services and reallocate the currents tax dollars), Firemen and Policemen will need to work more years, and realize a slower growth rate in total compensation. (As a side note recall that Evanston’s prior Fire Chief retired in late May at the age of 51 years old and his pension in his first year is almost $100,000 – also, Evanston’s former Police Chief "retired" from Evanston – while he’s collecting a pension from us, he’s now serving as the Police Chief for Park Ridge – seems like the current retirement age is too young given our current life expectancy)

      How can we implement a "fair system" for everyone? Contact your state legislators, Jeff Schoenberg, Robyn Gabel and Elizabeth Coulson. The real keys to the pension reform are held by Speaker of the House, Mike Madigan – anyone have his number and e-mail address?

      This is a serious issue in Evanston, Illinois and our country. We need a plan to stop the problem from growing. If we don’t make the sacrifices today, our children and grandchildren will suffocate from the debt we will leave them. 

       

      1. Government union employees need to make more sacrifices

        The government union pension plan has always been unsustainable and rife with abuse, mainly double dipping.

        The only sensible solution is to change the current pension benefits to a 401k based plan – best case scenario.

        At worst, the CURRENT pension benefits must change – the retirement age to 65, end the automatic 3 percent annual pay increase, end the double dipping and require union members to put in way more for their healthcare benefits and pension contributions.

        Merely raising taxes won’t solve the problem because the pension debt  is compounding – unless we want our taxes to compound.

        This year, the Democrats in Springfield borrowed $4 billion just to pay for next year’s pension. $1 billion of that is interest. The fiscal health of state is the worst in the nation. We can’t keep going on like this. And more taxes is NOT the answer.

        The U.S. Congress just passed $26 billion to pay for teacher, police and firemen salaries to keep them working for another year.

        Governor Pat Quinn refused to layoff even one state government union employee this year.

        In Evanston, to the best of my knowledge, the city has not laid off one existing firefighter and now is in court wih the Evanston Fire Union just to layoff three rookie firefighters.

        Way back in 2007, Illinois Governor candidate Bill Brady sponsored a bill to switch the CTA union pension plan to a 401k plan. The Democrats who control everything in Springfield nixed that effort. Now the CTA is begging for more money. It just goes on and on.

        The only growth industry this year is government.

        It seems the people making the sacrifices in this severe recession are those in the private sector. Thousands of government union employees marched on Springfield a few months back demanding a tax raise!

        Democrat candidates are campaigning to raise income taxes.

        The vast majority of government union campaign contributions on every government level have consistently gone to Democrat candidates. 

        The best way to solve the pension mess is to rid those who refuse to solve the problem but only compound it – the Democrats.

        1. Three firefighters have been laid off

          Al, you are incorrect in saying no firefighters have been laid off. Effective August 1 the three firefighters with the least seniority were laid off. You are also incorrect in calling them all rookie firefighters, two of the three had well over a year’s experience in the fire service, thus not rookies. The third was hired three months prior to being notified she would be laid off. In that three months the city spent approximately $30,000 to train and equip her with uniforms and gear, plus salary and insurance. I would hope the city leaders would have been able to see that layoffs may be necessary three months ahead of time, but obviously budgeting and planning is not a strong suit of our city government.

          At the end of the day though attrition through retirement would have been a far better move than these layoffs. Young firefighters make less in salary, generally have less health issues, and two of the three are unmarried with no children, which means the city would pay less toward their insurance than an older firefighter with a wife and kids. Now all the city has done is train three firefighters who will take their certifications and skills to other municipalities in the area and those departments will not have to spend a dime on fire academy, or paramedic school, I am sure the thank you card to Wally and the aldermen will be in the mail very quickly. Once the city does decide to begin hiring firefighters again it will just mean thousands more poured into training. I sure am glad the city is so fiscally responsible.

          1. In most cities and towns

            In most cities and towns, there would be no need to layoff any police or firemen if only we could reduce the pensions for current workers (and only for their future years of service) to a level no greater than that of the average comparably-paid private sector worker.

            Sounds fair, doesn’t it ?

            But hell hath no fury like a Civil Servant with a pension plans less than 4x greater than the  taxpayers that pay their way.

  3. Unfunded State Mandates

    A commenter wrote "…Springfield is able to pass legislation impacting fire and police pension funds, but isn’t accountable for funding them…"

    This is the same thing the state governments say about Federal unfunded mandates.  You would think the states would learn. 

    While the pensions are the responsibility of the cities, the state legislature has a responsibility to carefully study and understand the implications of their mandates. 

    But in a rush to get union votes and keep labor peace they pass un-fundable laws.  We need new legislators who have an understanding of economic and finance at least at the level of a college freshman—unfortunately they don’t seem to be at that level.

    The cities are not absolved.  Even if the state mandates the pensions, the cities can adjust the pay [contributions?] and benefits to compensate for the ‘mis-pricing.’

     

    1. Contact info for Illinois State Legislators

      The only way for changes to occur in the pension plans is for Springfield to enact responsible and sustainable laws. No one is going to be happy – Taxpayers because of higher taxes and less services, Government employees because of more work and less pay – however, this is the only solution – kind of like being a responsible parent – kids always want more etc, but responsible parents learn to make the tough and unpopular decisions. It’s time our legislators act as responsible legislators and make the tough decisions. Call and e-mail your thoughts :

      State Senator – Jeff Schoenberg – 217 782-2119 (springfield) 847 492-1200 (evanston) jeff.schoenberg@att.net

      State Representative – Elizabeth Coulson – 217 782-4194 (springfield) 847 724-3233 (glenview)coulson@earthlink.net

      State Representative – Robyn Gabel – 217 782- 8052 (springfield) 847 424-9898 (evanston) robyn@robyngabel.com

       

  4. You should COMPARE the

    You should COMPARE the pensions of these Civil Servants with that of a Private sector taxpayer making the SAME pay, having the SAME years of service, and retiring at the SAME age.

    To the extent that these Civil Servants’ pensions are greater, we should renege on this excess … as it is extrordinarily excessive, unsustainable, not justified, and in MOST instances was "negotiated" not with parties who are supposed to represent TAXPAYER intrerests, but with ploiticians who accept union contributions and their members’ election support. 

    These EXCESS pensions are clearly the result of a quid-pro-quo … you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.

  5. renege

    Quoting …"But Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, "It doesn’t matter how much we put in, thise pensions are unsustainable and we need a political solution from Springfield" that would reduce the amount the city owes."

    No, what they need is someone with the guts to tell the CURRENT workers & retirres that they are NOT going to get what they were promised, because (besides being unsustainable), the "promises" were made by politicians violating their obligation to negotiate on behalf of the taxpayers, and not give the unions & employees everything they wanted in exchange for union money and election support.

  6. Pension Funding

     There has been a lot of correct information shared in these comments, but also a lot of misinformation.

    Evanston, the poster-child for municipal pension underfunding in Illinois, finds itself in its current state primarily for  these reasons:

    1)  Failed to contribute- millions of dollars were just not levied or contributed, but the finance      charges keep ticking. This is having a credit card bill, but just paying the minimum amount each month, for 30+ years.  Those finance charges  do add up. As I have told City Councils since 1984, you can pay now, or you can pay much more later.  Later is now.  The current required contributions for both funds are about 25% normal cost (what it costs to fund the benefits, and all that would be due if the payments had been made, currently only about $4 million this year for both Funds) and 75% interest on the money not paid in.  The plans are designed so that about 80% of the benefits are paid on investment earnings (unless of course you don’t make the full payments-and that money earns zero percent.  Thank your previous City Council Members, Mayors, City Managers, and Finance Directors for raising your taxes.  These were able to borrow "off the books", but have created a mess we have to pay for.

    2) Change in the funding law-  the basic scheme is sound.  Police and fire, in exchange for working for less than what they might earn in the private sector, agree to a long career, long hours, dangerous conditions, and being in a constant state of readiness.  Pensions, which date back to soldiers in the Roman Army, are a way to make up that difference.  They’re not free; police and fire pay in almost 10% of their salaries to fund these.

    The plans were set up with level payments-you knew what you owed.  In 1993, the Illinois Municipal League rammed through a back-loaded balloon payment system, which you are looking at now.  The Police Fund was one of many plaintiffs attempting to block that law from taking effect. The Illinois Supreme Court rarely considers whether the taxpayers were getting screwed-they addressed only two issues 1) could the legislature pass any type of legislation it wanted to pass? and 2) Were the funds in danger of collapse?  The test for #2 was: has anyone yet missed a payment?  Not a good decision, but the regulators, actuaries, and funds tried to warn you.  Thank your friends at the IML, who have total amnesia about their role in raising your taxes. 

    3)  When it became apparent that the City of Evanston could just levy what it felt like, they then used an actuary not meeting the Pension Code standards, who misstated benefits , had 50% of the work force working many more years than they legally could work, and other such oddities-all which lowered the city contribution.

    Comments that suggest that the State passes benefits and does not provide the money to fund them are correct-but are half truths.  The IML sits at the table whenever pension legislation is proposed, and Speaker Madigan lets nothing through until there is agreement.

    Comments that suggest that police and fire should work longer and retire at higher ages may have some merit in the discussion, but watch out for the spike in disability applications as these workers age.

    The "Coalition for Pension Fairness" claims they want to involve all stakeholders-but only municipalities are allowed to join, the same folk who brought you this mess in the first place.They use a lot of half truths as well-Social Security is a prime example. Police and Fire are not in Social Security,as their retirement systems predated the creation of Social Security.  This is a huge cost savings to municipalities, who pay into two systems for other workers, at a higher aggregate cost to the taxpayers (IMRF and Social Security).Not only are police and fire not in social security, but many of them work second and third jobs (apparently to make up for the "lavish" salaries that earn working for the public sector). Police/Fire workers who have pre/post/ and moonlighting income during their life times, and pay into social security, have 60% of that confiscated, a fact that the Coalition finds convenient to ignore.

    Evanston Police and Firefighter earn good pensions, but not lavish pensions.  Their benefits are chiefly funded by money invested over time.This concept is easily understood by even middle school students.  If the money is not put in, the taxpayers make up the difference.  No Police Officer or Fire Fighter has ever missed making their contribution payment. 

    When the Mayor says "we can’t afford these benefits", what she really is saying is that "we can’t afford the interest payments" created by years of municipal bungling.  None of their current proposals will change the debt at all, and making the minimum payment every year only makes it more likely that future generations will foot more of the bill for services already rendered.

    Timothy Schoolmaster

     

    1. thank you!

      Timothy – a thousand thanks for the information you provided, it answers several questions I asked about pensions a few days ago.

      It’s interesting that, whatever the details of Evanston’s situation, essentially the same outcome is being experienced by communities and states nationwide – so the problem is endemic to our system of government when it comes to funding. While it should work in theory, with politicians looking out for the interests of the electorate, in practice it amounts to legislation through fear and taking the easy way out. The fear is of lobbies who threaten denial of re-election/guarantee voter turnout and the easy way out is something everyone knows about – promising to pay or using techniques like you described to avoid paying while providing the goods and services to an ignorant tax-paying public that doesn’t follow the details. We only need look at the option-ARM disaster to know that individuals are just as easily attracted by the chance to avoid principal payment under the idea of all will be well in the future.

      Fear and taking the easy way out can only be fought by an eternally vigilant public. There are watchdogs, both individuals and groups, that work tirelessly to protect the public interest, but their work is in vain if the public doesn’t stand behind them to provide the pressure that only the electorate can provide.

      So lobbies, at all levels, only have their power due to the indifference of the whole. Look at what the Israel lobby, the NRA and AARP accomplish with our Congress. We stand with ethnic cleansing, easily available guns for everyone and retiree benefits that can’t be touched. We all need to keep on top of politics more than we do. It’s boring and tedious but if we don’t we get "we the lobbies" instead of "we the people".

      What percentage of Evanstonians don’t even know who their alderman is?

  7. Government and union cronyism is to blame for the pension mess

    Timothy Schoolmaster is the Police Pension Board President who is going around blaming the past City Council for the pension problem. It’s interesting he did not mention that in his post. Ah, the beauty of Google.

    The unfunded pension liability stems from the poor stock market performance since pension funding is based on investment returns. But in Schoolmaster’s arcance post, he would have you think the unfunded pension liability is to be blamed on the City Council because he says it did not put aside enough money for the pension.

    In the past, the stock market did OK and the economy was relatively healthy, taxes were going up. The problem is government union employees are GUARANTEED PAYMENT in retirement between 50-75 percent of their last year’s salary with a GUARANTEED 3 percent pay increase for life with a nice healthcare program. And they can retire as early as age 55.

    An Evanston Fire Chief just retired at age 52 and will receive a $100,000 pension every year for the rest of his life along with a 3 percent annual pay raise.

    These pensioners contribute 10 percent of their salary every year. It is a fact that a government union employee will receive on average 35 percent more in retirement than what they paid into the system in their career.

    So if the economy declines and stock market declines there is not a formula in place to adjust for a decline in pension retirement payments, which remember is funded primarily on investment returns. In other words, government union employees always win.

    If only 401k plans would work like that. Let’s not forget about the pension abuses – double dipping and spiking. That Fire Chief at age 52 can get another government union job and later collect another pension (double dipping). A deputy fire chief could get promoted to fire chief and then quit months later and his retirement pension would be based on the fire chief salary (spiking).

    The system is unsustainable and would be even if the past City Councils had set enough aside according to Schoolmaster’s satisfaction. It’s common sense. Just do the math.

    1. Much more misinformation

      As I have said previously, there is a lot of misinformation being batted about here, a point well proven by the comments posted by persons who feel the need to hide behind their on-screen monikers such as "Tough Love" and "Anonymous Al".   These anonymous posts are extremely short on fact, and  ignore the math and the long history of  elected officials indifference.  Both of you are welcome to show up at the Police Station or a Fire Station to learn about all of the things the men and women of these agencies do for you that you’d rather not soil your hands with.  All public employee benefits were approved by the people you elected, and yes, if they followed the plan, the bulk of the deferred compensation (pensions) would be paid by investment return. They didn’t, and now we must pay more, as I have been saying to apparently deaf ears since 1982.  City officials have long sought to provide a high level of police and fire service in Evanston, and that high level of service has been delivered.  They never did figure out what the true cost was, or if they knew it, they chose to ignore it.  The so called "pension reforms"  enacted (longer years of service, lower benefits) will not solve any problems if the "deferred compensation" (the employer contribution, through taxes, to pay for public servicer salaries) is not contributed.

      Pension Funds are long term investors, and there are market swings in both directions. The Police Fund will celebrate its hundred anniversary next July, and to my knowledge, we’ve never missed a payment. Unfortunately, investment restrictions (passed by the folk you elected to represent you in Springfield)have prevented us from making some of the returns that the markets offer.  Those gains or losses, however, are reflected annually in the actuarial report, and for many, many years, the City chose to ignore those reports totally, and contribute what they felt like.  A million dollars owed but not contributed earns zero percent.  Ten years later, through the magic of compounding, that $1million has grown to $1.967 million.  What was supposed to pay benefits if contributed, but ten years later, to pay those same benefits,  that $1 million now costs $1.967.million.  Do the math.

      Currently, the annual cost for these benefits for both funds is about $4 million.(police and firefighters contribute a bit over $2 million from their salaries)  That $4 million  is only 25% of the total due, because unfortunately, the other 75% of the annual cost is due entirely to interest charges ON MONEY NOT CONTRIBUTED BY THE CITY IN A TIMELY MANNER.  That does not suggest that these are bad plans, or that the benefits are exorbitant, only that your elected officials chose to do a little "borrowing off the books" for a great many years.

      You’ll also notice that those anonymous posters don’t bother mentioning all of the other city workers that make things happen in Evanston who are in IMRF, where the city contributes (as deferred compensation) both to IMRF AND to Social Security, which Police and Fire don’t have.  The main difference (besides that non-Police /Fire employees have more contributed in their behalf in the aggregate to both plans by the City)is that IMRF is a defined benefit plan that works-either the City contributes what is required each year, or IMRF has the power to come and take it. There is no 25% payment for pensions, and 75% interest payment due there.

      In the interests of full disclosure:

      Timothy Schoolmaster is an Evanston resident and taxpayer. He was an Evanston Police Officer and Supervisor for over 30 years.  He has been an elected trustee of the Evanston Police Pension Fund, and President of the Board since 1986. He was a founding member and later Executive Director of the Illinois Public Pension Association, and was co-chair of the Illinois Public Employee Retirement Systems Conference in Chicago in 2006 through 2010. He does not post anonymously.

      1. Pension math

        Actually Mr.  Schoolmaster I know the math a lot better than you do.  And please, stop with "investment income" being a "source" that pays for these pensions.  It isn’t. The ONLY sources of contributions are the employee and the employer (meaning the taxpayers) and interest earnings are simply an element of the employee/employer contributions since THEY would have kept these earnings in the absence of the intiial contributions.

        And yes, we do know that police and firemen provide a valuable service.  But that doesn’t mean we have to overcompensate them.. And that’s what is happening now (to an extreme)  due to your Union money and your members’ election support.

        The biggest culprit is of course the politicians who accept this money and support and ignore their responsibilities to the taxpayers.

        The proper way to allocate the cost of the pension benefits provided is to accumulate (at a reasonable interest rate) all employee contributions from the date made to the date of retoirement, and then compare that to the present vaule (also as of the date of retirement) of the promised pension payout (including the COLA increases).  When that comparison is made, it CLEARLY shows that the employer (meaning the taxpayers ) always pay 80+% of the total cost of these pension plans.

  8. Too supportive

    I read Timothy Schoolmaster’s comment before the comment above it, and somehow it seemed that Timothy Schoolmaster’s comment was just TOO supportive of the police/firemen.  Of course, when next reading the comment above Mr. Schoolmaster’s, my suspicion was confirmed as r. Schoolmaster’s is Police Pension Board President .

     

    Lets critique a few of Mr. Schoolmaster’s points…

    (1) Quoting …"The plans are designed so that about 80% of the benefits are paid on investment earning"        Nonsence.  There are ONLY 2 original contributors to the pension, the employee and the employer (meaning the taxpayers).  In the absence of these contributions there would be no investment income.  Looking t it another way, the investment earnings generated from employer (i.e., taxpayer) contributions would have stayed in the taxpayers’ pockets if not forceed to make these contributions.  It has been shown time & time again, that the employees rarely pay more than 10-20% of the costs of their pensions.  the TAXPAYERS pay the balance (no matter how Mr. The plans are designed so that about 80% of the benefits are paid on investment earnings twists these facts.

    (2) Quoting …"Police and fire, in exchange for working for less than what they might earn in the private sector, agree to a long career, long hours, dangerous conditions, and being in a constant state of readiness."   I got a goo laugh reading this one.  Working for less than what they could get in the Private sector ? Really? Easy to say, but doing what … a security guard, and fire safety officer … at 1/5 the pay and with no benefits.  Long career ? Since when is being able to retire 10-20 years EARLIER that the average taxpayers considered a "long career"?  Long hours ? Who in the Private sector get as much vacation and sick time off as a policeman/fireman?  And in the private sector you don’t get paid for unused sick time and can never carry it from year to year to year, cashing it out out retirement, and often being allowed to add it to your pensionable compension.  How obnoxious, and what a ripoff of the taxpayers !

    But yes Mr. Schoolmaster, the state should be contributing. 

    But to be fair to taxpayers Public Pension Plans should provide for equal (as a percentage of pay) pensions, but NOT better.  Much is said that only the top get the big pensions, but the facts CLEARLY show that at EVERY (YES EVERY) income level, public pensions are at least double and often 4-6 times what a comparably paid private sector worker retiring at the SAME age, and with the SAME years of service would get from their employer.

    This situation (besides being unsustainable …. even if the state had made its contributions) is grossly unfair to taxpayers.   These pension need to be REDUCED for CURRENT as well as new employees … but only for future years of service.

    1. “tough love” and “anon. Al” – profiles in courage?

      It’s interesting that two anonymous posters berate Tim Schoolmaster, who posted using his real name, for not mentioning his job. This is pure hypocrisy.

      Imagine yourself at a city council meeting. When the period for public comments arrives, it turns out that the speakers have signed in as "anonymous", "tough love" or "anonymous Al". When they step up to speak they wear masks so they cannot be identified and proceed to attack others by name. What would you think of this?

      Anonymous posting is by definition irresponsible and should be read accordingly.

       

       

       

       

       

      1. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority

        It’s interesting that two anonymous posters berate Tim Schoolmaster, who posted using his real name, for not mentioning his job. This is pure hypocrisy.

         

        While Anonymous Al’s right-wing posts are often silly, I can’t imagine any possible conflict of interest that he may have when he advocates cutting salaries and benefits for public employees.  Unless he works for one of the private companies that receives contracts to replace municipal workers, I don’t see where the conflict is.

        This is entirely different from a policeman, fireman, or union representative saying that we should not cut public employees’ benefits.

        Clif, your crusade against anonymous posting is getting old.  The fact is, anonymous writing has been part of political and philosophical discussions for centuries.   In addition to Publius and Junius , who were mentioned in my previous posting, David Hume published "A Treatise of Human Nature" anonymously in 1739.  He later published An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding  , and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals .   Enquiring minds have always published anonymously, and will continue to do so.

        Perhaps you should consider what the great Justice Stevens said, in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commn. ( 514 U.S. 334) , 1995:
         

         

        Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation — and their ideas from suppression — at the hand of an intolerant society.

         

      2. In defense of Anonymous postings

        Appropriate and thoughtful anonymous postings which provide accurate information and add to the public discussion are much needed. There are several and legitimate reasons to post anonymously including concerns for one’s family, direct or indirect retribution, job issues etc. What is irresponsible is personally attacking someone or posting inaccurate and misleading information.

      3. Dear Cliff Brown,I have

        Dear Cliff Brown,

        I have attended such meetings, and witnessed the subtle but omnipresent intimidation from a few dozen policemmen who stood bordering the entire room all with arms crossed over the chest and staring at those in the audience with the clear message …. "we dare you to speak-up in a way that may harm us", meaning suppport changes which reduce pensions/benefits, lower raises, merge operations, or outsource elements of their work.

        Yes, it is unfortunate that I (we) must comment anonymously ….. but we are entitled to get OUR side presented without such intimidation.

        1. A baker’s dozen….maybe

          Dear Tough Love,

          I too have attended many, many meetings regarding this issue, and I have NEVER seen "a few dozen" Police Officers present at any given time. The very most I’ve seen it 10-15. Usually you cannot get that many there at one point ‘in uniform’ as you suggest, because they all can’t attend while on duty, in uniform. Perhaps, your fear has blurred your vision. Would you prefer everone show up in non-threatening hemp robes?

          1. Who said they were in

            Who said they were in uniform ?  If I recall correctly, none were …. but the badges were exposed for all to see.  The "message" was unmistakable !

  9. Pension

    Lots of good writing on this matter on both sides.  However,  everyone needs to look at the whole picture.  As Schoolmaster and others have pointed out the city of Evanston elected to defer proper funding for the pensions for decades.  Now we the citizens are paying the price.   The Police and Firefighters made their contributions.   The investment returns will go up and down over time.  What was missing is the third part of the formula.  The mandated city contributions that were deffered.  It’s like a three legged chair.  The leg of the city became weak and broke collapsing the chair.  The other two legs of the chair have remained strong over time.

    Lets look at other issues.  "Double Dipping."   If you retire and get another job while reciveing benefits you earned at you first job, where is the double dipping.  Police and fire fighters have made their contributions over 20-30 years.  "Double Dipping" is working two jobs at the same time and getting paid from both jobs.  People in the private sector are allowed to retire and get another job.  Thats called supplemental income. 

    "Nice healthcare program."  A retired police officer/firefighter who is married pays over $1,700  a month for their health care.  This is not a fixed rate and over time health insurance will eat most of these officers pensions.  The city will only offer family coverage for retirees.  They refuse to do the single plus one coverage which is several hundred dollars cheaper for the officers.  Thanks.  The 3% raise on the pension is nothing compared to the raises in Health insurance every year.

    "Spike in pensions."   A police officers pension is based on their salary on the last day of employment.  Overtime, bonuses, payouts,  CAN NOT be considered as salary for pension purposes.  I do not remember a fire or police chief leaving only a few months after being promoted.

    Retirement age of 65.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want police officers and firefighters in their 60’s helping me and protecting me.  Can you imagine the disability claims where the city would be on the hook for paid healthcare for the rest of the life of these officers and 65% pension non-taxable.  There has also been studies that show police officer live ten years less then other people.  There have been studies done on this.

    Sick time and vacation payouts??? If an police officer never uses a sick day for 30 years of service they would have earned 360 sick days.  That’s a nice insurance policy if the officer becomes sick or injured prior to retiring.  However, the city will only pay the officer for 35 days of those 360 days if they are not used when the officer retires.  Police officers can only carry limited days of earned vacation over.  Police officers are only allowed to carry a certain amount of holidays.  There are very strick limits mandated by the city so they can avoid excessive payouts. These are good policies for everyone.  Past Police Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs are the ones that had the huge payouts and abused the system.   All you have to do is a FOI request to see those payouts.  Watch what you ask for some of those payouts were spread over several years after they left the city.   The huge payouts are not there for the officers and rank and file nor should they be.

    As you can tell I am an officer with the city.  I, like most of the other officers love our job and this city.  Please don’t blame us for the pension problems or let your views be clouded by  Pension envey. 

     

    Thanks

     

     

  10. Solutions for Evanston’s Police & Fire Pension Fund Situation

    It is clear from reading all these postings that the unfunded police and fire pension funds in Evanston are a major issue and problem for the community. The reasons for this unfortunate situation appear to be many and this problem has been growing for several years and/or decades. The critical issue is, what is the solution? I haven’t read anyone chime in with their views as to how to fix this problem. From reading the commentary, it appears there are several people with informed and some may argue biased views, but i haven’t read any solutions. Anyone care to offer their ideas and plan to fix this mess? 

  11. Hooray for underfunding!

    I for one am glad that the City of Evanston has historically underfunded its pension obligations.  If this massive unfunded pension obligation did not exist, none of us would be paying attention to the exorbitant levels of compensation that public servants make in comparison to the private sector.  If it weren’t for the underfunding, the cozy backroom deals between the unions and the public officials whose campaigns the unions bankroll would continue unabated and the taxpayers would be in the dark. 

    The massive pension obligation has forced us to confront these issues and will hopefully bring reforms at the local and state level to bring public sector compensation back in line with that of the private sector.  This means massive reductions in pay and benefits and a switch from defined benefit pensions to a defined contribution system going forward.

    As for the fate of the current pension obligation, 11 percent hikes in pension contributions are not going to be sustainable.  Taxpayers are not going to stomach tax increases to pay people who no longer even provide services to the City.  Sooner or later, the City of Evanston will have to declare bankruptcy and the pensioners will have to fight over the scraps with all of the other creditors in court.

  12. Defined contribution is the only way to go

     I work for 2 non-profits that are both transitioning from defined benefit (pension) plans to defined contribution (401k or 403b) plans.  This needs to happen immediately for all new employees.  It allows the city to pay as we go by matching workers’ contributions.  We can never get behind and we don’t have to gamble/guess on how long people will live.  This is happening all over the non-profit world.  You can still give a generous match to make up for the lower pay and added risk not seen in many private sector jobs, but it allows for firm planning for the city AND for the employee who does not have to worry that come retirement age, the money won’t be there.  And, the employee gets to decide what kind of investment strategy he or she wants (with some guidance, of course)

    Once you decide to establish a defined contribution plan, many of the younger workers may want to opt in to it.  You get an actuarial accountant to figure out what kind of lump sum would be fair in exchange for them giving up the defined benefit plan and that is the seed # in the 401k or 403b.  

     

    1. Consequences of defined contributions plan

          Once you move to the defined contribution plan, what incentive would there be for anyone to retire at 50?

          I know…I hear everyone saying ‘they shouldn’t retire at 50’..

          But do we want our police and fire forces to be made up of old guys (who would be paid more, because they have 30 years seniority)?   Are we willing to have mandatory retirement for cops and firemen at age 50 without any benefits  (and then what do they do? ) ?  Or will we just throw them out when they reach 45, and replace them with younger recruits who are less expensive?  Enquiring minds want to know.

          At many universities, since they abolished mandatory retirement, we have seen a bunch of old guys just hanging on past their prime.  Do we want that in the police department?

         Unlike the right-wingers, I don’t have an easy solution.   Part of the solution, of course, would be further reform of our health care system so that health insurance is not tied to employment and it is less expensive …but we know how much our right-wing friends hate so-called "socialized medicine".  This way cops and firemen could retire from government service at 50 and take less demanding jobs, and still have decent health care.  

      The same should be done with pensions…Social Security, perhaps the most successful government program in history, should be protected from right-wingers like Paul Ryan and Joel Pollak –  and government employees should be part of it.   Right now, we have a system that encourages people to move to exurban locations or other states, to avoid paying taxes for pensions that were earned 20 or 30 years ago.  

      Only  a national system would work…the problem is, the Republicans hate America.

       

       

      1. Seniority

        Why is it a given that just because person A has more years of experience than person B that person A should be paid more?  I don’t know if you are aware of this, but in the private sector (also known as "the REAL WORLD") there is no such thing as "seniority."  In the private sector, a person’s compensation is (ideally) determined by how much value he or she adds to their company or organization, not by based upon how many years they have managed to stick around without getting fired. 

        Only in the make-believe world created by collective bargaining between public sector unions and the elected officials the unions have bought and paid for could a concept such as Seniority exist.

        A 50-year old police officer with 25 years of experience should not be paid any more than a 25-year old police officer of the same rank unless the 50-year old can demonstrate that he can do the job more effectively than the 25-year old.  In fact, it is likely that the 50-year old officer is not able to do the job as well as the 25-year old because he may not be able to handle the physical demands of the job.  If that is the case, he should be paid less, or he should not have the job at all.

        You ask, "Will we just throw them out when they reach 45, and replace them with younger recruits who are less expensive?"  My answer is a resounding YES!  Unless, of course, that 45 year-old is talented enough to transition into a management or supervisory-level position which adds sufficient value to the organization to justify his compensation level. 

        This is how it works in the real world.

        1. You ask, “Will we just throw

          You ask, "Will we just throw them out when they reach 45, and replace them with younger recruits who are less expensive?"  My answer is a resounding YES!  Unless, of course, that 45 year-old is talented enough to transition into a management or supervisory-level position which adds sufficient value to the organization to justify his compensation level. 

          This is how it works in the real world.

           

            I am always amused when I hear people say ‘the real world’.  I don’t know why people think that the corporate world is more ‘real’ than government or academia.   Given the real-estate bubble, Enron, and the Wall Street bailouts,  I find the corporate world to be absurd – not ‘real’.

          Now here is the problem:  If you want to treat cops, firemen , civil servants   (and I presume our armed forces too)  with the same lack of loyalty with which the corporate world treats its employees, then you will get in return the same lack of loyalty that workers have (or at least they SHOULD have ) for their employers, and the same mercenary ethics.

          Do we want cops who are willing to work for the highest bidder (most likely a druglord) , or firemen who decide that it is not profitable to pull kids from a burning building?  Do we want our armed forces to fight with the same lack of interest displayed by the Hessian mercenaries who fought Washington?

           

          1. Pay and performance

            You seem to be implying that our firemen and police officers do a better job because we compensate them well, and that if we were to reduce their compensation that they would somehow do a worse job.  I have a hard time believing that argument, especially when the current compensation system does not incentivize performance.  It’s not like police officers get bonuses for solving more crimes or firefighters receive more compensation based upon how many fires they put out.  They get paid the same regardless of their performance.  The only thing that matters is the hours they put in and years in service.

            Many firefighters in rural areas are volunteers.  By your logic, since they are not getting paid anything at all, volunteer firefighters must just let everybody burn to death, right?

            The reality is, in Government, the tax dollars continue to flow in regardless of performance of our representatives and public servants.  There is therefore a fundamental disconnect between compensation and performance which allows inefficiencies to persist indefinitely in the Public Sector.  Such inefficiencies cannot exist for long in the Private Sector or a business will fail. 

            Enron cheated and got away with it for a while and then it failed.  The big banks played fast and loose for a while and then they failed.  Or at least they would have failed if it were not for Government’s intervention.  But in Government (and Academia, thanks to Federally subsidized loans), inefficiencies  continue to persist because the dollars continue to flow in regardless of performance.

             

          2. This comment is spot-on

            This comment is spot-on.  A good example is the Post Office.  Everything was fine until Congress said they actually had to fund (from their own budget) retiree heathcare costs.  Congress now know it’s impossible and is already backing off.

            The rest of the gov’r (federal, state, city, count, town) is no different.  The "promises" are WAY too generous and can’t be funded w/o raping the taxpayers for pensions & benefits WAY beyond those who would be asked to pay get for themselves.

            The answer is the reduce pensions & benefits for all CURRENT as well as nerw civil servants.

            If that can’t be done, then outsoucre 90+% of all Civil Servants and we accomplish the same thing.

          3. Silliness about volunteer firefighters

            Many firefighters in rural areas are volunteers. By your logic, since they are not getting paid anything at all, volunteer firefighters must just let everybody burn to death, right?

            No, dp_witt, you don’t get it. 

            You are arguing that firemen and policemen should be treated like employees in the ‘real world’ of capitalism, where they are ruthlessly tossed out once they are exhausted or can be replaced with cheaper labor, but then you cite volunteer fire departments as an example.

            Volunteer fire departments are an example of rural socialism, not capitalism.   People who work for the community,  perhaps in the realization that their house might burn down some day and they might need help.  

            If you admire the ‘real world’ so much, you should let the invisible hand of the free market solve the problem of fires.  Maybe an entrepreneur would set up a firefighting company, charge a monthly or annual fee, and compete for firefighting business.    If people don’t pay their fee, their calls for help would be ignored.  And of course, if your neighbors didn’t pay their fees, you would just watch the house next door to you burn down.

            Or perhaps the firemen would come when your house is burning, but refuse to help out until you have paid an adequate sum.  …( and I suspect that entrepreneurial firefighters would help drum up new business by distributing matches to children, along with oily rags.)

          4. So how does ANY of this

            So how does ANY of this justify their being over-paid, over-pensioned, and over-benefited (as well as being able to retire with a full pension 20 years earlier than the taxpayers who pay their way) ?????

          5. “So how does ANY of this

            "So how does ANY of this justify their being over-paid, over-pensioned, and over-benefited"

            The whole point was that the comparisons between government jobs with the ‘real world’ are just not valid.  I would expect our government to treat its employees – whether they are policemen, firemen,  soldiers, or clerks in some office – with more decency than corporate America treats its employees.

            I don’t think that government workers are overpaid and over-benefited;  the problem is that the vast majority of workers are underpaid and under-benefited. 

            { Yes, there is a lot of hypocrisy among cops and firemen too, though.  There are many l know who are rabid Republicans and spout all sorts of Limbaugh/Beck talking points. They don’t care about poorer people, just themselves. }  

            Unfortunately,  Chuckie Dawes and the  members of the Central Street NIMBYs Association want to live in big houses, so they need to have  poorly paid people around to mow their lawns and do their laundry.

            Like I said before, this is a national problem – beyond the control of the City of Evanston.

            Police and firemen are just not physically able to perform certain duties when they are 50 years old.  And no matter how good they are, they can’t all be promoted to desk jobs when they older.

            This is a problem not just with cops and firemen, but with many other physically demanding jobs.  Some people should retire at 62…or younger…which is why the schemes by the Republicans (Pollak and Ryan) to raise the retirement age for Social Security  are just mean.   It is the poor people  – who work hauling garbage or picking lettuce – who need to retire young, and need Social Security the most.

             There are others who are capable of working well past 62, and they should put off retirement until later.  

          6. “Lets address your

            "Lets address your points:

             (1) Quoting …"The whole point was that the comparisons between government jobs with the ‘real world’ are just not valid.  I would expect our government to treat its employees – whether they are policemen, firemen,  soldiers, or clerks in some office – with more decency than corporate America treats its employees."