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Pension crisis arises among local municipalities

Published: Monday, April 7, 2014 9:21 p.m. CDT

The ballooning cost of pensions doesn’t start and stop in Chicago.

That’s according to Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities, a coalition of mayors across Illinois who this week called on state lawmakers to make changes to their fire and police funds to help rein in skyrocketing pension obligations.

The coalition’s push comes on the heels of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asking state lawmakers to approve a pension reform plan to help bailout city pensions, by raising property taxes and cutting city worker retirement benefits.

Coalition members said this week in a statement, that the escalating pension payments plaguing Chicago are similar to those affecting local governments.

Morris is among several municipalities across the state that’s facing a pension funding crisis of their own. The city’s police pension obligations this year stood at $582,000 and is projected to jump to $658,000 in 2015.

Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick, who is not a member of the coalition but agrees reform is needed, said lawmakers’ passage of overly generous pension benefits over the years – without providing a means to pay for them – puts a strain on municipals’ budgets.

“The problem is the General Assembly needs to look at the ripple affect beyond today or tomorrow. It’s nice and easy to cave in and give to especially when you don’t have to pay for it,” he said.

Mayors across Illinois last week said higher property taxes and drastic cuts to services could result if nothing changes.

Police and fire pension funds in cities outside Chicago have skyrocketed eight-fold significantly in the past two decades, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a legislative budget analyst. The increase has occurred despite taxpayer contributions growing nearly four-fold since 2002.

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