Mayors meet with lawmakers about pension problems

By Kelsey Gibbs |, Anthony Antoine |

Published 04/29 2014 05:44PM

Updated 04/30 2014 06:29PM

Update: 6:05 pm, 4/30/14, Wednesday
ILLINOIS -- Downstate mayors are telling lawmakers, if you can fix Chicago's pension system, you can fix ours. Mayors from around the state paid a visit to the Capitol Wednesday. They want lawmakers to know the hardships the broken pension system is causing.

The mayor of Springfield fears the worst if the city can't work out a deal with the government. Illinois lawmakers passed Chicago's first pension reform bill earlier this month. That bill now heads to Governor Quinn.
Original: 5:44 pm, 4/29/14, Tuesday
ILLINOIS -- A promise for a pension plan when police and firefighters retire is up in the air. For cities across the state, police and firefighter pensions are a hot topic. Wednesday, mayors from around the state are heading to Springfield to speak with lawmakers. WCIA-3's Anthony Antoine has more.

City leaders say pension plans are choking city budgets and, if the pension crisis isn't fixed, they'll have to raise property taxes or cut back on staff. Neither is an option they want.

"We want to try and keep the promises we made to these people when they hired on firefighters and police officers."

Mayor Tim Grover, of Mattoon, is joining other mayors and taking the fight for pension reform straight to the Capitol.

"I think you have more of an opportunity to influence the legislature if you have a large group of individuals."

Right now, police pensions are 45% funded in Mattoon. Firefighters are at 44%.

"We want to make sure that when these individuals retire, they will have their pension there."

So, the city continues to pay into it.

"We have to find that money to provide those services, provide for pensions, and it's very difficult to provide at this time."

Raising property taxes is one way to fund it, but even that has roadblocks.

"One of the problems we've had in Coles County and a number of other counties is that we have limitations on the amount of increase we can have in taxes."

So, Mayor Grover is thinking outside the box and using funds from video gambling machines.

"We decided that we would take 20% of that gaming money and put it into the police and fire pension funds to try to increase the amount that we have there."

The mayor estimates that's about $35,000.

"I hope it makes them feel good and it lets them know we're trying to find places that we can put more money there."

At Wednesday's meeting, five mayors will speak with legislators including the mayors of Danville and Decatur. They'll have individual meetings with Senators and State Representatives. They're hoping lawmakers can use that information to make a decision on how to move forward with pension reform.

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