Gillespie voters will vote on whether or not to pay a higher tax rate to fund a retirement plan for city employees but the referendum will be next April instead of this November, and the question will be whether or not to fund a retirement plan for all city employees covered by collective bargaining agreements instead of police officers only.
City aldermen discussed the issue at length during a special meeting Tuesday night and voted to pay for a survey to determine what the tax burden would be to enroll city employees in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) pension system.
Last week, Gillespie Police Officer Justin Klopmeier appeared before the council to ask the city to approve a November referendum that would facilitate participation in a state retirement plan available to police officers only. To meet the Aug. 23 deadline to be included on the November ballot, council members at that time set a special meeting for Tuesday night to further consider the question.
In the meantime, Police Chief Jared DePoppe said, additional research indicated the question could be on either the November general election ballot or the April ballot for the consolidated election. He said police officers originally were under the impression that they would have to wait until 2024 for the next opportunity to submit a referendum to voters.
“The fear was that if we didn’t do something now, it would be two years,” he said. DePoppe also said police officers also had investigated the IMRF system. With similar retirement benefits, IMRF would have the added advantage of being available to all city employees covered by collective bargaining contracts.
“IMRF ultimately would be more expensive because it would be for more people,” DePoppe said. “But if we can offer retirement for the whole city, why not do it?” Scheduling the election in the spring also would give city employees and police a few months longer to make their case to potential voters.
Responding to a question from Ald. Wendy Rolando, DePoppe said Gillespie police officers are in favor of IMRF as an alternative to a pension plan limited to police officers.
Fire Chief Larry Orville, who attended the meeting for another matter, commented that his experience with approving tax referendums for the fire district and ambulance service suggests voters will support a referendum if they know what it’s for.
“Nobody wants to pay additional taxes” but voters will support referenda when they understand the reason for it and believe it benefits them and the community. “One thing I’d emphasize is that you can’t keep police officers and employees without offering a pension.”
Ald. Landon Pettit, Public Works Chair, said Laborers union members in the Maintenance Department are onboard with joining the IMRF system.
“People deserve to retire with dignity,” he said. “They need to know they can provide for themselves and their families. I believe everybody who punches a clock and works their shifts deserve a pension.”
Ald. Rolando moved to authorize the IMRF survey with a second by Ald. Dona Rauzi. The survey will ascertain the amount of tax money the city would need to raise in order to offer retirement benefits to city employees. Once determined, that amount will determine the language of the referendum.
Earlier in the meeting, Norville appeared before the council to report on the status of relocating the Fire Department to garage buildings on the northeast side of the city that were once used to house buses for the now defunct Cavallo bus company. Norville said the Fire Department expects to totally vacate its former headquarters by the end of the year. Fire Department offices and equipment were formerly housed in an area comprising the northwest corner of the Civic Center, and the city council is investigating plans to utilize that vacated space for the Gillespie Police Department.
In other action, the council voted to pay an 80 percent downpayment on an awning to be installed on the front of the Civic Center in order to get a 10 percent discount on the awning total price, agreed to pay bills for electrical work submitted by Bauer Electric, and approved a payment resolution totaling about $26,000 to Korte-Luitjohan Contractors, Curry and Associates Engineers, Sunbelt Rentals and Wells Fargo Vendor Financial for improvements to the city’s water treatment plant.
Council members accepted a bid of $1,250 from A’more Catering, Benld to cater a seniors Christmas dinner set for Dec. 4. The bid covers meals for 200 people. Other bids were received from FEMAs Catering and Sundae Best Catering, both based in Benld. Ald. Rolando said she had talked with Municipal Band to arrange for about 30 minutes of entertainment for the event. A long-time Gillespie tradition, the senior Christmas dinner was canceled for the last two years because of COVID concerns.