Mattoon mayor sees city trying to get ahead of looming pension crises

Mattoon Mayor Tim Gover isn’t concerned with the loss of the fire department’s ambulance service. What worries him is paying the police and fire pension funds.

“We need to cut costs, and figures show the ambulance service was not generating any income for the city,” Gover told the East Central Reporter. “We have two private services, and this won’t create a problem.”

The City Council voted 4-1 in July to end the ambulance service as a way to save funds and pay pension costs that have nearly doubled over the last decade. The service will cease on May 1, 2018, and the city will then be serviced by two private ambulance firms. 

The Illinois Policy Institute reported that Mattoon was forced to kick in nearly $3 million to its local pension funds two years ago. Overall, unfunded pension debt then stood at approximately $42 million dollars; it was half that in 2005.

But Gover argued that numbers alone don’t tell the story.

“State pensions, teacher pensions and fire and police pensions are all totally underfunded,” he said. “Someday, this will grow to really be a crisis situation with all the billions that are already owed.”

As it is, Mattoon police and fire pensions are funded at just 45 percent, on average.

The policy institute said much of the struggle can be traced to having fewer active members paying into the system compared with the number of retirees receiving benefits.

As recently as 2005, Mattoon had a near-even balance of retirees to active workers, at 82 to 79, respectively. By 2015, the number of active workers contributing to the fund had fallen to 68 while the number of retirees with benefits ballooned to nearly 100. 

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