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Illinois cities push their own legislative agenda

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More cities across Illinois are using most, if not all, of their share of property taxes to pay for public safety pensions and the Illinois Municipal League says state mandated sweeteners don’t help.

The IML announced its legislative agenda Tuesday titled “Moving Cities Forward.” Among the proposed bills are efforts to address the growing taxpayer liability for local government public sector pensions.

Barrington Village President Karen Darch said one way to address the problem is to require an arbitrator to take a city’s fiscal reality into account instead of relying on tax increases when making decisions on contract disputes.

“In the actual negotiation, if (the arbitrator’s) imposing an arbitration award and he considers the community’s ability to pay, that’s huge because at least you’re starting from a rational place,” Darch said.

Right now, an arbitrator can consider the city’s ability to raise taxes in the future as a way to cover costs sought in a contract. The proposed legislation would require an arbitrator to base decisions on actual available revenues at the time of arbitration.

IML Executive Director Brad Cole said another fix is consolidating the state’s 663 different municipal pension funds into one, lowering overhead costs and increasing investment returns.

“Every dollar that is being spent on a fund manager or on the administration of the fund is a dollar less that could be put into the actual fund to make sure that the funded ratio is strengthened,” he said.

Another proposal Cole said is important is to remove the requirement that prevailing wage be used for all public works projects, which require governments to pay at least the equivalent of labor union costs. Cole said the state could pass a bill “establishing a threshold of $200,000 under which communities, if they chose to, would not have to impose prevailing wage contracts.”

Cole also said local governments need relief from high worker’s compensation costs.

That’s something Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said is a problem.

“We practice constant safety efforts for our employees and equipment but we have seen some of the awards that have just been seemingly very, very high,” he said.

Among other IML proposals are expanding home rule eligibility and making money the state owes cities continuing appropriation.

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