By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – According to state senators Dave Syverson and Steve Stadelman, pension reform is on its way this spring.
That’s the message the pair sent to Rockford aldermen on Monday during their legislative updates. The update comes at a time where Rockford, like many municipalities, is against the wall because of funding mandates.
“Pension is a problem that is facing the state and local governments,” Syverson said. “There is a current formula in place for funding levels you have to have by certain dates. Having said that, there are a number of alternatives that are being looked at. And I think many of us who’ve been involved with the pension issue understand that there’s nothing magic about being 90 percent funded.”
The state mandates cities to fund pensions by 90 percent by 2040, which continues to lead to rising costs that leaders say have reached crisis status. Rockford’s pension contributions have swelled to $18 million a year since 2013. By 2025, state law requires $.59 of every dollar of revenue to go toward public pensions.
“A pension can still survive being 80 percent funded,” Syverson added. “Most of us are open to the idea of looking at how we can adjust funding to make it still viable and actuarially sound.”
Stadelman and Syverson said they are working on ways to create revenue. One of those revenue sources is a casino, something Rockford has been passed over for in recent years. However, they say neighboring facilities will continue to grab their share of regional gambling revenue even if Rockford builds a casino.
Lawmakers are set to return to the State Capitol Nov. 13 to begin a scheduled fall veto session. The session is scheduled for Nov. 13-15 and Nov. 27-29.
In other city business, aldermen voted to purchase three aerial ladder fire trucks for $3.2 million. The funding source is a 4.2-percent loan.
Each truck is equipped with five firefighting components: aerial ladders, water, pumps, hoses and ground ladders. They will be used for front-line response for seven years and be reserve units after that. The financing will cost the city $479,529 a year for eight years.
Aldermen voted to table a vote on the $156.8 million general fund budget Monday in order to discuss how to allocate a $280,000 surplus that’s projected for next year. The proposed budget includes an overall staff reduction of 11 full-time equivalent positions from 2018 to 2019 and a flat property-tax levy, a move that leaves around $1.5 million the city could otherwise have collected from Rockford property owners. The mayor’s proposal also includes a change in health benefit contributions for non-represented employees.
The budget will come back in front of the full city council in two weeks. The city has until the end of March to pass the 2019 spending plan. R.