Tells you something about the severity of the municipal and state pension crisis that Forest Park comes up like roses in a Better Government Association survey of police and fire pension funding among towns in the Chicago area.
With the police pension fund at 66 percent of full funding and the fire pension fund at 58 percent of full funding, our village earns marks for fiscal responsibility for its annual efforts to pay the suggested tax funds into the kitty. While the BGA says the proper target for funding is at 80 percent, clearly a lot of towns, several of them our neighbors, have fallen into deep, deep pension holes.
For instance, in North Riverside there is a battle royale looming over the town’s plan to privatize its fire department as a way to avoid future pension obligations. But keep in mind that from 2009 to 2012 North Riverside paid in just $100,000 of the $2 million required for its fire pension fund. Seriously problematic.
In Forest Park, village officials have been salting away the necessary funds even though it becomes more painful to accomplish each year. We are now at the point, says Village Administrator Tim Gillian, that most every dollar in added property tax generated to the village is shoveled toward the pensions. With contributions to the two funds up nearly $300,000 in just the past year, this problem will only get worse.
The dire scenarios that across our region pension funding is going to eat up necessary spending on current services is already playing out. The reality is that state and local leaders from two and three generations back created an unsustainable pension system. And all of us are going to pay a steep price.
Credit to Forest Park for doing substantively better than most communities in managing this critical issue.
It wasn’t a huge response and it wasn’t a surprising answer. But according to last spring’s community survey, keeping the village-owned Altenheim property green and open is by far the top choice of villagers for that site.
In a stroke of bold leadership early in his mayoral career, Anthony Calderone pushed the village government to purchase the open space which was about to go on the market as the Altenheim German Old People’s Home faced financial straits. And in that rip-roaring development era, Calderone knew that meant a big block of townhomes and condos being built on one of final open parcels of land in Forest Park.
But Calderone’s bold leadership on this topic largely ended with the purchase. Since then it has been an endless wander through various options untested with the public. A new YMCA campus. An athletic field for Fenwick High School.
While not scientific, this survey is a clear public statement that creating an enduring public use for this site is the public’s goal. Now it is time for Calderone to again lead in creating an entity charged with creating an inclusive and fundable plan for the Altenheim. It won’t be easy but it can be a unifying project for our community.