Police Lights

PEOTONE — The condition of Peotone’s already struggling police pension fund is getting worse, according to a state report.

The village, which is in southern Will County and north of Manteno, is falling well short of what the state is recommending it contribute to the pension fund each year.

In fiscal year 2018, the state Department of Insurance advised Peotone to pony up $384,000 for the fund, but the village only gave $163,000, or about 43 percent. Just about every year since 2012, the village has given a smaller percentage of the recommended contribution.

The pension fund is funded at 22 percent, down from 26 percent from a few years ago, according to the state.

Earlier this year, Peotone officials discussed tapping into the $12 million that the village had received from the privatization of its water and sewer utilities to bolster the police fund.

Asked about the pension issue this week, Village Administrator Aimee Ingalls declined to comment, asking the Daily Journal to send her the information from the Department of Insurance. The newspaper sent it, but she did not follow up with comment.

Mayor Steve Cross did not return messages for comment, as was the case when the Daily Journal tried to reach him for a story on the pension fund in February.

In 2007, Peotone voters approved the creation of the local police pension fund. Before that, the village’s police officers were covered by the same pension fund as other village employees — the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, or IMRF.

IMRF mandates municipalities make pension payments and sues those that do not. In Peotone, the village’s IMRF pension account is more than 100 percent funded.

By contrast, no one is forcing towns such as Peotone to make sufficient payments to their police and fire pension funds, so they often fail to keep up. The result is underfunded pension systems, which means future taxpayers will have to pony up to make ends meet.

Before the village board decided to put the pension issue to voters in 2007, Police Chief Bill Mort, who had been at the helm for a year at that point, said he would leave as chief if voters rejected the new fund.

When the village figured it would cost $13,000 to start the pension fund the first year, the chief chipped in $10,000 of his salary.

Before becoming chief, Mort was with the Will County Sheriff’s Office for nearly three decades. He could have started collecting his sheriff’s pension through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund had he not been with Peotone, also an IMRF employer.

Under that pension system, a person cannot retire and work for another IMRF-participating employer. So Mort could not start receiving his pension while still working for Peotone, even if he decided against receiving a pension with the village, which he did.

Shortly after voters approved the creation of a police pension fund, Mort started collecting his sheriff’s pension.

Mort’s pension is about $90,000 per year, while he makes a $75,000 salary as chief, down from $85,000 in his first year at the helm. With those two sources of income, Mort pulls in $165,000 per year.

The way IMRF works, Mort said in an interview earlier this year, his wife would get lesser benefits if he happened to die before he started collecting IMRF, thus the reason for his warning that he would leave the village government.

He has argued the police pension fund, rather than IMRF, is better for officer recruitment because the benefits are superior.

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