Forest Park taxpayers may not realize it, but in the coming months there will be a number of rather important decisions on how huge chunks of your money will be spent. No, we’re not talking about school budgets or tax referendums. We’re talking about union contracts, which can easily drive discussions on the former.

The village government just a reached an agreement with its dispatchers, a small group of only seven employees responsible for fielding 911 calls and steering life-saving services in the right direction. These men and women are part of the same union as police officers in Forest Park and, traditionally, have been treated to many of the same benefits. Thankfully, some of that has changed with the new agreement and it’s to the benefit of taxpayers.

Just around the corner are negotiations with the firefighters’ union in Forest Park. Their contract expires in the spring. Teachers in the Proviso Township High School District also have a contract that expires in a few months, as does the support staff union in the same school district.

You, dear taxpayer, are on the hook for all of it.

Meanwhile, unemployment is hovering around 10 percent, foreclosures are up, property values are down, and those of us in the real world who still have a job are most certainly not locking in pay raises or discounts on health insurance contributions. We don’t have 18 sick days a year and, for most people, unused sick days don’t get banked as a cashable gift heading into retirement. The outcome of labor negotiations is important in any economy because the bulk of school and municipal spending is on its employees. Unfortunately, what is happening outside of the echo chamber that is the public sector has been ignored at the expense of those who pay the salaries.

Too often, unions and public administrators come to the bargaining table armed with industry statistics culled from other labor agreements that relied on contracts given to another union, which was based on a norm established by even more public-sector employees. It is an expensive and self-perpetuating cycle to stand in a room full of mirrors and up the ante on the backs of taxpayers. And it has to stop.

It didn’t stop this time with the dispatchers who received a 3.5 percent raise in the first year of the new contract. Notably, thankfully, the village extracted the contract provision guaranteeing that the next contract dispute has to be sent to binding arbitration. This is a worthy first step to taking public sector contracts out of the echo chamber and into the real world crucible of “Thank God, I’ve got my job.”