The City of Evanston will join many other suburban municipalities concerned about the rising cost of funding pensions for firefighters and police officers. On Feb. 22, aldermen approved a resolution authorizing the City to join the Pension Fairness for Illinois Coalition created by the Northwest Municipal Conference, a council of suburban governments of which the City of Evanston is a member. The coalition was formed in response to what it terms the “soaring public safety pension costs,” the funding for which has “more than doubled since 1999.”

Under state law, municipalities must provide the funding for pensions for fire and police personnel. These benefits are set by the state rather than the municipalities, but they must be funded by the municipalities.

As of March 1, 2009, the aggregate unfunded pension liability for the City of Evanston was $158 million. The liability is calculated annually as of March 1, the beginning of the City’s fiscal year. This year the City allocated about $14 million to those funds – $6.3 million to the firefighters pension fund and $7.8 million to the police officers pension fund.

According to information provided by the Coalition, public safety employees can retire after 30 years of service — some at age 50 — with a pension of 75 percent of their final pay rate. An employees contribution toward his or her retirement is capped at 10 percent, with the municipalities paying the remainder. Some communities, the coalitions said, have had to cut core services to provide pension funding or to defer hiring of new police officers or firefighters or the purchase of new equipment – or all of those.

The solution proposed by the Coalition is fivefold:

• Create a modified pension system for all new police officers and firefighters.

• Make employee contributions to pension commensurate with the level of benefits received.

• Consolidate all public safety pension funds into one statewide investment system.

• Adopt a 30-year rolling amortization period for the full funding of these pensions.

• Require a supermajority in the General Assembly to approve benefit enhancement for public safety workers.

Under the resolution approved by City Council, the City of Evanston “supports the mission of the Pension Fairness for Illinois Communities Coalition” and will “actively encourage the participation of local governments … and other concerned entities throughout the state” in the Coalition