Guest Column: Dimke plan a mess all around

From Bruce Hammond

While I find it admirable that you’re supporting your friend Tim Dimke, I think your extended defense of his proposed retirement arrangement in last week’s The Rock River Times is largely beside the point. Before going any further let me say that I have no axe to grind with Tim. As far as I’m concerned, he was a no-brainer choice to replace Webbs Norman as the head of the Park District. He has performed creditably in that capacity and seems – from my very limited, first-hand experience around him – to be a pretty decent guy.

I’m also definitely not suggesting that Tim is somehow not entitled to whatever IMRF pension he expects to draw. There may be some evidence here of salary “spiking” (late term pay gimmicks that raise one’s maximum pension benefits), but I’m not sure the TRRT or the Rockford Register Star really gave us enough information on this point to form a valid opinion. Because this sort of thing goes on all over the place and won’t really be addressed until all State and Municipal Pension Funds are overhauled, targeting one individual for availing themselves of this means to enhance their retirement – barring illegal activities – is arbitrary at best.

However, juggling numbers to show how much money the Park District would save, digging up instances of other retirees who were granted pensions and hired back as consultants and attacking the motives/methods of other participants or commentators of this little drama, while perhaps useful in polarizing the issue, side-step what I see as the most obvious sticking point, namely that the proposed pension plus independent contractor pay would have been a substantial pay raise for Tim Dimke.

So far nobody has been very precise with the numbers they’ve been throwing around but both local papers put Dimke’s current salary in the $150K range. I believe IMRF caps pension benefits at 75 percent of the retiree’s highest four-year average salary. This would put Dimke’s annual benefits in the neighborhood of $112,500. Added to the contract payments from the Park District he would earn about $237,500 the first year. With the automatic 3 percent COLA increases on the pension benefits he would earn over $244K in the third and final year of the contract for doing the job for which he is currently paid $150K.

Any additional expense Dimke incurs as an outside contractor will almost assuredly be offset by the tax advantages of being self-employed rather than a salaried employee. The perception that the average taxpayer will take away in this situation is that Dimke has engineered an $87K per year raise for himself for the first year of his contract and really, that’s about all that matters here.

As far as the proposed savings to the Park District (taxpayer) that the TRRT column puts forth, I’m a bit skeptical and would need a lot more detailed, accurate information before buying in. People are always fudging numbers to rationalize getting what they want.

Remember how we were told a number of years ago – complete with a professional looking pro forma – that if we spent $20 million on renovating the Metro Centre and $3 million to buy a hockey team that the arena would no longer require operational subsidies? Did anybody besides the Mayor and City Council actually believe that?

Projected savings often tend to disappear when they’ve been exposed to reality for a while. A reasonably accurate projection might be possible if one had access to all the relevant information, but it’s all pretty much a moot point as of right now so I’m not convinced that further digging would be beneficial to anyone.

While I can agree with the TRRT column that a lot of this was handled badly by a number of players in this little drama, the final outcome (so far) is pretty much where it should be. Dimke is still being paid a reasonable salary to head the Park District until his projects are completed or he chooses to actually retire from his job. He is still entitled to a pretty substantial pension when he does retire.

A retiree from the Teachers Retirement System receiving over $100K per year gets banner, negative headlines from the Illinois Policy Institute or Illinois News Network. And the Park District doesn’t have to take any more heat from Joe Average Taxpayer about abetting a windfall pay raise for its top employee.

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