With much of the state's financial crisis being blamed on under-funded public pensions, wouldn't it be great if ordinary taxpayers could see exactly what condition the funds they support are in?
Alas! The Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI) has created an online public pension portal with annual statements of pension funds for the entire state of Illinois.
A review of police and firefighter pension funds for the most recently available annual reports in four Madison County municipalities - Collinsville, East Alton, Edwardsville and Granite City - shows that most funds have recently operated in the black, thanks mainly to municipal tax levies and investment income.
But it also shows that retirees or beneficiaries take out a lot more compensation than they put into pension funds.
A press release issued by the DOI on Tuesday says the online portal offers easy access to information regarding a participant's pension benefits. Currently, it lists only police and firefighter pension funds. However, more documents will gradually be made available in the coming months, the DOI says.
“We are pleased to provide the public with direct access to review public pension annual statements,”said acting DOI director Ann Melissa Dowling. “The Public Pension FOIA portal demonstrates our commitment to educate participants about their pension benefits and increase transparency with the Department.”
Granite City's firefighter pension fund and East Alton's police pension fund were examined because they operated with losses, according to the most recently available annual reports.
The Granite City fund operated at a net loss of $567,130 in fiscal year ending April 30, 2015.
It paid $3,009,718 in service pensions, non-duty disability pensions, duty disability pensions, occupational disease disability pensions and surviving spouse pensions to approximately 70 beneficiaries in values ranging from $254 (surviving children) to $77,716. The fund also incurred approximately $86,000 in other expenses.
It took in $980,995 from tax payers and contributions from the city besides the tax levy; $344,408 from 55 active members with salaries ranging from $54,037 to $103,301; and $1,203,043 in investment income, for a total of $2,528,445 in income.
The fund balance is $16,250,594, according to the annual report.
The other fund that ran a deficit was East Alton police pension which showed a $12,220 deficit in fiscal year ending April 30, 2014.
The fund paid $293,412 to 10 beneficiaries in amounts ranging from $14,329 to $55,371 and incurred approximately $9,000 in administrative expenses.
The fund took in $84,804 from tax payers; $67,101 from 11 active members with salaries ranging from $47,545 to $84,947.90; and $138,447 in investment income for a total of $290,352.
The actuarial fund value is $2,762,880, according to the annual report ending April 30, 2014.
Current East Alton police pension beneficiaries, which include retirees, surviving spouses and a dependent child, have in total contributed $280,489 in payroll deductions, yet have received in excess of $2,638,523 over the course of the benefit period, meaning that member contributions account for just 10.6 percent of benefits they received.
For example, retired police officer George Urban, who worked from 1969 to 1989 with an ending salary of $30,042, began receiving $15,021 in retirement benefits in 1994. His current benefit, adjusted for cost of living, is $26,129. He has received more than $315,441 in retirement benefits and will receive at least another $261,290 if he lives another 10 years. According to the report, he did not have any accumulated contributions to the fund.
The city's current police chief Darren Carlton, who earns approximately $90,000 in salary today also is drawing $35,514 in pension benefits for a career at the East Alton Police Department that began in October 1988 until retirement in November 2008, according to the annual report. He began drawing a pension Oct. 1, 2010. He has contributed $77,229, according to the annual report, and has received $177,573 in retirement benefits.