Posts Tagged Pat Devaney

North Riverside considers privatizing the fire department (more)

The SouthTownStar has an article on the continuing issue of the North Riverside politicians attempt to privatize the fire department.

The state’s largest firefighters union claims that a lawsuit filed by North Riverside to terminate the village’s fire union is motivated by politics, not financial problems.

“Over the last 10 years, North Riverside hasn’t made a single full payment into the union pension fund,” said Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois. “In five of those 10 years, it made no payments at all. Zero!”

A lawsuit filed on behalf of North Riverside by Evergreen Park attorney Burton Odelson contends that the west suburb no longer can afford to make payments into the fire pension fund as required by law. The first-of-its-kind lawsuit in Illinois asks a Cook County judge to dissolve the firefighters union so the suburb can privatize its fire department.

“This isn’t about the suburb’s ability to fund the pension,” Devaney said. “It’s about politics.”

North Riverside’s mayor wants a private company, Paramedic Services of Illinois, to provide fire protection for the village. The company has provided the town’s ambulance service for 28 years.

Devaney contends that PSI has made $3,800 in donations in recent years to the Voters Improvement Party, a political party whose members include the mayor and a majority of village trustees. “This is a no-bid contract worth $9 million awarded to a company that has made campaign contributions to the mayor and his political party,” Devaney said, adding that those donations represent about 25 percent of the party’s campaign funds since 2005.

“It would be illegal under state law for the state to award a no-bid contract to a company that made campaign contributions to state officials,” he said. “But the law doesn’t apply to municipalities, so North Riverside does this to reward a company that makes campaign contributions and claims it is all about saving the taxpayers money.”

The village, with annual revenue of $14.4 million and expenses of about $15.1 million, claims that required contributions to its fire pension fund have increased by a whopping 340 percent (from $175,793 per year to $773,055) from 2003 to 2013.

Pension reform legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2011 requires that all municipal pension plans be at least 90 percent funded by 2040. The law also gives public-employee unions in 2016 the right to begin intercepting sales tax revenue from the state to towns if pension funds are not adequately financed according to a state schedule.

North Riverside argues that power could mean the village might lose millions of dollars in sales tax revenue, forcing it to slash government services.

Odelson said the village would save more than $745,000 next year and $4 million over the next four years by contracting with a private company to provide fire protection.

In addition, all of the village’s firefighters would have to be hired by the private company under the terms of the contract.

“All of the firefighters would be hired by the private company for 11 years, at which time 12 of the 14 full-time firefighters would be eligible to retire,” Odelson said. “Their benefits would remain the same, the pensions would be paid, and we even offered a salary increase if they accepted the deal but they turned us down.”

But Devaney believes village officials are not motivated by budget concerns but rather “political retribution against the union. The (union), in the last mayoral election, supported the mayor’s opponent. He’s getting back at the members by refusing to negotiate with the union in good faith. “We will document that in court, and this lawsuit will be thrown out because it violates the fair labor laws and the right of individuals to engage in the democratic election process.”

Odelson said the firefighters union contributed more money to the opponent of the mayor than the mayor received from Paramedic Services of Illinois.

If North Riverside should win this lawsuit, it’s likely that several Southland towns will file similar lawsuits seeking to terminate union contracts to preserve the towns’ financial solvency.

“They have real financial problems,” he said. “North Riverside does not. While failing to fund the firefighters pension, it was making payments on a regular basis into the IMRF (Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund), which covers village employees.” North Riverside made payments of $203,375 to the IMRF in 2003 but paid nothing into the fire pension fund in the same year, according to information provided by the firefighters union. It says that in 2006, the village again made zero payments into the fire pension fund, while contributing $216,000 to the IMRF. And in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the town again failed to pay anything to the firefighters fund, while making contributions of $231,474, $248,461 and $247,741, respectively to the IMRF, according to the union.

“What that tells me is the village made a deliberate decision to create a pension crisis so it could use that as an excuse to violate the rights of the union firemen,” Devaney said.

As for the south suburbs, he said the solution lies in consolidating municipal fire departments into fire protection districts. “When you eliminate duplicative costs, the huge salaries of fire chiefs and deputy fire chiefs and other administrative costs, the savings would provide the public with the same degree of safety they have now at a much lower cost,” Devaney said.

“What we’re saying is that when a contract expires on April 30, 2014, it ends,” Odelson said. “The village has the right to privatize when the contract expires. That’s it.”

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North Riverside considers privatizing FD (more)

The has an op ed piece on the proposition in North Riverside about privatization of the fire department.

Pardon the residents of North Riverside if they’re feeling just a little embarrassed these days.

Known for their hard work and sense of fairness and accountability, North Riverside residents have been faithfully paying their tax bills each year with the understanding their elected officials have been taking care of village business.

Fact is, the politicians who decide how to spend the hard-earned tax dollars of North Riverside have been misappropriating village funds and diverting public workers’ funds for other purposes.

That’s exactly what this is: by rerouting revenues earmarked for police and firefighter pension payments for other purposes, the politicians who run the village of North Riverside have in fact been misappropriating public funds.

In five of the last 10 fiscal years, the village board has declined to pay even one dollar into the pension fund for its firefighters. Now, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. is threatening to privatize the village fire department, not because the current firefighting corps is incapable but rather to siphon off additional dollars that should be earmarked for public safety.

In fact, members of the North Riverside Fire Department are among the most professional firefighters in the Midwest. No, Mayor Hermanek is flirting with privatization, because his own village board isn’t honest enough to pay its bills the same way its residents do.

This is not a new crisis, only one of cynical opportunity for Mayor Hermanek. Indeed, on July 5, 2011, the Landmark ran a story detailing warnings by then-Trustee Rocco DeSantis that the village faced lawsuits because of its refusal to comply with its legal obligation to police and firefighter pensions.

Interestingly, Trustee DeSantis also accused the board of hypocrisy because its own pensions were current and healthy under terms of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

Privatization of a professional public fire department raises all sorts of questions of political propriety. After all, no one makes a profit from public service — at least not legally.

But most importantly, this cynical display of irresponsibility by Mayor Hermanek represents a serious threat to the safety of all North Riverside citizens. The reason communities maintain public police and fire departments is because the safety and security of our families should be the top priority at all levels of government.

The performance of Mayor Hermanek and the village board is more than a source of embarrassment for the taxpayers of North Riverside.

It’s outrageous.

Pat Devaney, president

Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois

thanks Dan

And from the Chicago Sun-Times:

The union representing North Riverside firefighters promises to sue if the village hands over control of the fire department to a private company, as planned.

The villages’s mayor contends his proposal would ease a pension problem. But the company poised to get the contract also is a contributor to Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr.’s political party. What’s more, the move could set the village up for a costly court battle. Officials had hoped it would rein in costs.

“We understand there’s a problem forcing their hand, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the fire department,” said Rick Urbinati, president of the North Riverside Firefighters Union-Local 2714, who claims the move would break multiple state labor laws.

Since 2008, village officials have lowballed or skipped payments to police and fire pension funds, according to the Illinois Department of Insurance. As a result, both pension accounts are only about 40 percent funded. Complicating the matter is a change in law that allows the state to garnish tax revenues from towns that are delinquent on their payments.

“If we don’t totally fund the pension by 2016, they’re going to start intercepting our sales tax,” said Hermanek, who took office a year ago after serving as trustee.

Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, said newly created or redrawn fire districts have opted to use private companies. But this is the first time he has heard of a municipality trying to privatize an existing department.

And Hermanek thinks there are others, waiting to see how the situation in North Riverside plays out before considering similar plans of their own.

Hermanek said North Riverside faces a $1.9 million deficit and is reliant on sales tax revenue, which has been low since the recession hit. But the village of 6,700 also is not large enough to receive the “home rule” designation allowing officials to hike the sales tax within their borders. Property taxes are a non-starter, because raising the $700,000 yearly to fund the pension fund would be huge hike, Hermanek said.

To sidestep those issues, Hermanek wants to award a $9 million, five-year contract to the Paramedic Services of Illinois — a company that in recent years has made $3,800 in donations to the local “Voter’s Improvement Party” — a party that counts Hermanek and a majority of trustees as members. Donations made by the company, which did not respond to a request for comment, account for 26 percent of money raised by the party since 2005, according to state records.

Under Hermanek’s proposal, which is supported by a majority on the village board, the department’s 16 unionized firefighters would be offered jobs with Paramedic Services of Illinois. The company currently provides ambulance service for the village and would train firefighters to be paramedics as well, to eliminate overlap.

The firefighters could keep their current base pay, but would have reduced benefits and would be required to surrender their pensions in favor of a 401(k) program, according to a village memo. Former employees could still collect a pension, and current employees will get a pro-rated pension based on what they’ve paid in, according to the memo. The plan is scheduled for a final vote on July 14.

Urbinati said unionized firefighters will refuse to work for the company and hope to negotiate an alternative to privatization. And J. Dale Berry, an attorney representing the firefighters, said he’s willing to negotiate a contract that would cost the village the same as their proposed deal with Paramedic Services of Illinois.

Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos, the lone critic of the plan on the village board, says the deal stinks. “We subsidized water. We subsidized garbage. They never bid out any contracts until recently,” Demopoulos said. “Now we’re in such a financial rut that they are asking our firefighters to sacrifice.”

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State legislation concerns local municipalities

An article from politics Early&Often about municipalities’concerns over HB 5485:

Municipal leaders are sounding the alarm over legislation they say could take decisions regarding fire department staffing levels out of their hands.

Proponents of the measure, which passed the Illinois House earlier this month, say it’s a safety issue, while municipal officials argue it could further stress already tight budgets.

The Senate later this spring is expected to consider the legislation, which would clarify or modify the state’s Public Labor Relations Act that gave police officers and firefighters the right to bargain collectively. The change would allow fire department staffing or minimum manning levels to be negotiated — along with wages, benefits and work rules — and potentially subject to arbitration. If ultimately signed into law, the measure — HB 5485 — wouldn’t apply to Chicago.

Some towns, such as Oak Lawn, already have staffing requirements built into their contracts with firefighters.

What’s alarming municipal officials is that decisions about personnel numbers could, if not worked out at the bargaining table, be made in arbitration on a case-by-case basis.

Groups such as the Northwest Municipal Conference and the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association warn that if communities are required to maintain certain fire staffing levels, it could force layoffs in other areas.

“Manning has never been an issue that could go to arbitration,” Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said, adding that the group’s members are “very concerned” about the legislation.

An official with the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois said concerns of municipal officials are overblown. Pat Devaney, president of the labor group, said the legislation doesn’t mandate that communities establish minimum personnel levels and would codify court rulings that have upheld the use of arbitration in maintaining staffing numbers.

In a video she posted earlier this month, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury described the minimum manning requirements in her community as “archaic,” and said it “ties our hands” as far as allocating municipal resources.

Communities could face huge increases in personnel costs, forcing them to resort to higher property taxes or cuts in other areas, Steve Quigley, executive director of the Will County Governmental League, said. Quigley said that, in Will County, a firefighter costs the average municipality about $130,000 a year with salary, benefits and pension. To raise the staffing level at one fire station by one firefighter would cost the municipality more than three times that in order to cover shifts around the clock, he said.

Eamon O’Dowd, president of Glenview Firefighters Local 4186, said firefighters should have a say in how many of them work each shift. He said village administrators first suggested giving themselves control of manning by reducing daily personnel in January 2011. “This was a proposal, but a policy they wanted while we were in contract negotiations. This should be separate from what’s on the negotiating table,” said O’Dowd, an 18-year paramedic and firefighter with Glenview.

Glenview firefighters also offered to save $300,000 a year by reducing overtime and capping salary raises for two years, O’Dowd said, in return for manning assurances. Despite complaints from firefighters about proper staffing levels, Don Owen, deputy village manager for Glenview, said the bill would reduce municipalities’ ability to govern. “It really would take away what elected officials and village administrators are supposed to do for residents,” he said. “It would not allow us to perform tradeoffs in budgeting and be accountable to residents. It’s a very bad piece of legislation if we’re mandated to staffing levels.”

Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said it could be the middle of next month before senators get a good look at the bill. She said Radogno is “gathering input” on the issue and has been hearing from municipal officials who oppose it and firefighters who support it.

thanks Dan

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