Oh, holy pensions
December 4th, 2016
Chicago isn’t the only government with a looming pension crisis.
Numbers compiled by the Cook County Treasurer’s office and secreted my way show about a quarter of the government entities under the county umbrella have more retirees than they do employees.
It’s all public information available online, but seeing it in one lump is an eye-opener.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s been battling the problem since arriving in City Hall. There are 34,129 employees in the city of Chicago–not including teachers and school employees–and 46,749 retirees get benefits.
The mayor has offered up plans to put more money in the city’s retirement system to help prevent it from going broke.
Other government bodies may need to take similar action, given the dire data from the treasurer’s office headed by Maria Pappas.
This isn’t the first time she’s brought information to light. Pappas likes numbers and likes to share them with the public. A few years ago she started publishing information about city and suburban debt on county property tax bills.
Pappas declined to talk about the latest bit of pension information. She was preoccupied Friday playing an electronic piano and singing holiday carols for a community party at her office. Pappas is expected to discuss the data Monday when she headlines a City Club luncheon.
Of the 549 government entities under Cook County’s umbrella, 130 have more retirees than they do paid employees–from little libraries to the giant Metro Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
That government office has 1,982 employees and 2,359 retirees. A few years ago, recognizing it faced a pension problem, the district changed its contribution multiplier. Employees added 3 percent of their pay toward the fund–dedicating a total of 12 percent of their pay–and the district nearly doubled its contribution increasing a 2.19 percent multiplier to 4.19 percent.
“Significant changes needed to take place if those benefits were to be secured,” David St. Pierre, executive director of the water district, told me. “We’ve made those changes and seen a turn-around.”
For Glenview Public School District, it’s the state that oversees pension benefits for 1,170 retirees. Employees number 665. The district still pays into the state fund based on how many employees and retirees it has on the books.
Interim superintendent Griff Powell acknowledges the employee-to-retiree ratio could be a concern if the state can’t fix its pension problem or if it shifts some of the burden back to the district. Nothing joyful and triumphant about that.
Pappas’s documentation is an eye-opener for smaller government bodies. What will little Justice Public Library District do? It has 1 employee and 11 retires.