East St. Louis has one of the highest crime rates in the nation, some of the most fire-prone and dilapidated habitats imaginable, and is one of Illinois’ poorest communities, with nearly 45 percent of its residents living below the poverty line.
So the last thing East Boogie needs are firefighters and a police force who feel stressed, insecure and anxious about their retirement pensions. But that is exactly the case.
In fact, according to a 2017 biennial report by the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI), the city’s police pension fund is only 38 percent funded, while the fire pension fund has only 13 cents available for every dollar owed in future benefits. We’re talking virtual insolvency, folks.
That is because the city has fallen short of its required contribution, to the tune of 74 percent for the fire pension and 66 percent for the police pension fund, according to Wirepoints analysis.
And there’s no easy fix in sight. Businesses aren’t exactly fighting to set up shop in the city and tax revenues from the Casino Queen, which accounts for roughly 43 percent of ESL’s operating budget, are down.
This could potentially lead to revenue garnishment from the state’s comptroller’s office, similar to what happened to Harvey, Illinois, in which tax revenues were intercepted and rerouted to pension funds, resulting in massive layoffs of police and firefighters.
As a result, this issue will be front and center in East Boogie’s mayoral race in 2019. Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks and challengers councilman Robert Eastern III and former mayor Carl E. Officer must grapple with this among other hot-button issues, including a change of government referendum on the ballot this November 6.
ESL currently has a council-manager form of government, in which the city manager (at a salary of $100,000-plus) handles the day-to-day management of city business, while the mayor (at $50,000 per year) leads in a titular capacity.
The referendum will essentially ask voters if they should return to a “strong mayor” form of government, thus eliminating the city manager position and granting management of day-to-day operations to the mayor.
One would think that, in a poor city, this would be a no-brainer and that the $100,000 savings from the elimination of the city manager could be put to better use (like city services or pension funding).
And while they’re at it, how about eliminating the $500,000 per-year wasted on funding the ESL board of elections and allow St. Clair County to absorb that function, placing another half million into East Boogie’s budget for more essential services or, again, to shore up the police and fire pensions.
Makes a world of sense, doesn’t it? Now look at it through the prism of an opportunistic political structure which has little to no interest in practicality, cost effectiveness or serving the public.
No, true “public serpents” are only concerned with their own selfish interests, profiteering from the ensuing chaos and spinning the negative reality as if they were actually doing the voters a favor.
The winner of the next ESL mayor’s race may well be determined by who effectively addresses these issues with a viable solution versus more rhetoric, posturing and deceptive politics.
As always, I’ll be watching and keeping you informed of the outcome.