Mt. Vernon Register-News

December 7, 2013

City has control over pensions

The Register-News

---- — Dear Editor:

When will it ever end! When will the city leaders ever end the practice of raising taxes to solve their own created needs? According to your newspaper, the city is at it again. This time they tell us they have no choice but to raise the property tax to pay the required pension payments for city employees.

According to the news account, the city council is increasing the property tax by only 4.69 percent to avoid the Truth in Taxation Law. For those of you who may not know, our city as a home rule municipality is not limited to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) requirement that limits increases in the property tax to not more than 5 percent or more than the Consumer Price Index whichever is less, but like all units of local government, the city must hold a Truth in Taxation hearing before increasing the tax by 5 percent or more.

As I recall, in late 2004 the city council held another Truth in Taxation

hearing to comply with the law. Several individuals appeared at the hearing to complain but to no avail. After the hearing, the council raised the property tax by 18 percent citing the need to generate funds to pay for pension benefits for city employees. At the time, city officials told us

they had no choice in the matter.

Again this year city leaders tell us they have no control of costs and point

the finger of blame at the state. They tell us that they can’t increase the amount of employee contributions and can’t reduce benefits leaving the public to believe their hands are tied.

Despite their claims that they have no control in this matter, I suggest they do have control. There is nothing in state law that requires municipalities to maintain a minimum of employees. With that said, a first place to start is to stop replacing policemen and firemen when they quit or retire.

In March of 2012, I conducted a comparative study between our city and two nearby cities of roughly the same population. The cities used for comparison were Marion and Centralia. The findings were very interesting.

At that time, Mt. Vernon reported having 42 police officers. By contrast, Marion reported having 30 officers, and Centralia had 22 officers.

The study also revealed that our city had more fire fighters than either of the other two municipalities. Mt Vernon reported 29 firemen. Marion and Centralia reported 25 and 19, respectively.

The study should tell all of us something. We should at least question the need for so many public safety officers. First we must ask if crime

rates or incidents of fire are greater for Mt. Vernon. If there is no need, then we should reduce the personnel in the police and fire departments as a way of reducing pension costs for future years.

Now I am not suggesting that we lay-off any policemen of fire fighters.

I am suggesting that we reduce the number of personnel through attrition. Doing it this way, nobody loses their job, and the city reduces their financial obligations over the long haul.

Regardless, the city council and city manager should not tell us that they

have no control of this matter. I don’t buy it!

Jere T. Shaw