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Ill. police, firefighters address pensions

By Dennis Sullivan
Special to the Tribune

JOLIET, Ill. — In a scene that may replay in other Illinois communities, police and firefighters are talking to Joliet officials about dwindling pension funds.

Retirees, who tend to be younger and to live longer than those before them, are part of the reason the police pension fund balance has dropped to 64 percent and to 58 percent in the fire fund, City Management and Budget Director Ken Mihelich told a crowd of about 150 Wednesday night. Attending were retirees and active police and firefighters -- many of them Baby Boomers considering retirement.

Another reason is that state legislators have increased benefits that municipalities provide to police and firefighters without providing the needed funds, Mihelich said.

The 90-minute discussion set the stage for future cooperation but also underscored that the city's perspective differs from that of police and firefighters.

The meeting drew City Councilman Tom Giarrante, a retired Joliet firefighter, and Councilwoman Jan Quillman, who is married to a Joliet police sergeant. Mayor Art Schultz, a retired Joliet police officer, did not attend.

Police Pension Fund President Rick Raasch called on representatives of both pension funds and city staff to sit down with actuaries and develop "the best numbers possible," then discuss a "one-time cash infusion. The longer you wait, the more the cost to taxpayers," he said.

Raasch, recalling when the pension fund balances were 78 percent, cited information showing Joliet fell more than $2 million behind what actuaries were recommending from 1999 to 2005.

"No matter how you twist the numbers, there's a problem here," Raasch said. "The percentages keep going down. No one can dispute that."

The city has no excuse for not fully funding its pension contributions, he said. "Employees pay the full amount required."

Mihelich and City Manager John Mezera defended the city's contributions as being in line with city actuaries' recommendations. Those contributions, they said, now represent 35 percent of the city's property tax revenue.

Mezera, who will retire in March, said the city has added money to the pensions but, "There is not a quick solution for things that happen over a long period of time.

"There's no way for the council to throw enough money at it," Mezera said. "The proper way is for us to work together. We need to educate each other. We need to listen to our financial advisers."

Copyright 2008 Chicago Tribune

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