Will County Forest Preserve one of few Illinois entities to overfund pensions
Former Will County Forest Preserve employees don’t need to worry about their pensions anytime in the near future thanks to an abundance of funding planned for the pension fund.
According to a draft of the 2018 budget, the preserve will contribute $350,000 to the fund rather than the required $248,315 – more than $100,000 over what is needed.
“It’s simply the right thing to do,” the draft notes.
“We live in a state where there are certain pension plans that are concerning and are underfunded,” Will County Board Commissioner Ray Tuminello told the Will County Gazette. “But we decided we don’t want to be like everybody else. We are one of a handful of government entities that are pre-funding our employees’ retirement and health care plans.”
When Tuminello started at the Will County Forest Preserve, the only coverage plans available were an employee package and a family package. Single parents were bundled into a family plan, making it harder for them to save money.
Now single parents can go into an employee-plus-one category to save money -- and save the district money as well.
“In fact our health insurance costs overall are going to go down for this year and that helps put the forest preserve in a much better financial position,” Tuminello said. “We want to make sure that our employees have the best health care, that they’re well taken care of.”
The Will County Forest Preserve awaits final approval of the 2018 budget in November. There is also a final payment due on Dec. 1 that will free up the board’s obligations on appreciations bonds that were issued by a board in 1998.
“I’m proud that the board never changed the terms or refinanced them (the bonds) or extended them,” Tuminello said. “Once a board structures the payments, future boards should adhere to them, and that’s what we did.”
After making the final $14.49 million payment, the board will issue $900,000 for fiscal year 2018 to finish projects by 2019: improvements to the Isle A La Cache Shelter, Centennial Trail-Schneider's Passage, Normantown Trail-Rockwell Lane to 111th street and Whalon Lake Lakeside Shelter. All were long-term capital fund projects planned three years ago.
“We decided that instead of bonding out or going into debt, the best thing we could do would be to pay cash for it (the projects),” Tuminello said. “The more stuff that we pay cash for to improve now, the less interest we pay in bond payments in the future, and that will free up money for future boards and won’t saddle them with the debt.”
The preserve will have an excess of $7.5 million, according to the budget plan. It will also bring in an estimated $13,852,895 in property taxes.
There is also an increase of funds for the Forest Preserve’s Infrastructure Maintenance and Replacement Program, taken from its normal operations fund.
“We are not dipping into reserves to pay for that,” Tuminello said. “80-something percent of our budget is made up of property taxes, so we have to be responsible and take care of our existing assets. Our trails and our walkways is the most (important) thing that we have; Failure to maintain them will result in just excessive tax dollar spending in the future to make sure that we bring them back up to speed."