Winnetka Firefighters Pension Fund benefits surpass contributions; pension deficit nearly doubles in 10 years
Paying out large pension benefits that exceed Winnetka Firefighters’ pension contributions is draining the pension fund and has nearly doubled the deficit in the last 10 years, a report by the Illinois Department of Insurance revealed.
The Winnetka Firefighters Pension Fund is underfunded by nearly $12 million, which translates to roughly $3,100 in firefighter pension debt per Winnetka household, according to the report.
The report also revealed that in 2014, each of the 25 active Winnetka firefighters saved an average of $752 per month. But upon retirement, each stands to receive an annuity worth millions.
“I live in Winnetka, Illinois. Their benefits — they spend $5 million a year on their fire department,” Eugene Keefe of Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates LLC told North Cook News. “Their benefits match salaries. They pay as much in benefits as they pay in salaries.”
Keefe said the problem with pensions in Illinois, particularly government pensions, is that they are underfunded and “become phony and fraudulent” in a sense because people think there is enough money in the pension system to keep it afloat, which is not the case.
In 2014, Winnetka firefighter compensation averaged $149,229, which included $52,840 in retirement savings that came from Winnetka taxpayers.
“Everyone thinks of benefits being 10 percent to 20 percent of your payroll but try to imagine benefits being 100 percent, equaling your payroll and at some point I think (they are going) to outstrip in lot of areas — the benefits are going to be more money than the payroll,” Keefe said.
The Winnetka Firefighters Pension Fund Board consists of five members. Two of the members are appointed by the Village President; another two are active firefighters elected by their fellow active firefighters; and one is a retired firefighter elected by participating retirees.
Currently serving on the board are John Ripka and Andrew MacArthur (active firefighters), Michael Hughes (retired firefighter), Chair John Sobol, and Mark C. Fuller.
MacArthur reportedly earns $156,637 in salary and taxpayer-funded retirement savings, and by the end of 2014 had contributed $76,234 to his pension after 10 years and three months of service.
Ripka earns $189,568 and had contributed $115,651 over the course of 14 years and eight months of service.
When Hughes retired in 1997 after 31 years of service, he had saved $73,093 and is currently collecting $82,568 per year — a total of $1.16 million over 18 years.
“Try to imagine a private company that would do that? You’d be broke in a minute,” Keefe said. “My payroll is $1 million and my benefits are $1.2 million — who can afford that? But it is taxpayers in this state who are getting that thrown at them.”
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Winnetka, IL - 60093