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Published by the Chicago Tribune

September 12, 2014, 4:50 PM


After several fruitless months of union bargaining, the Village of North Riverside has taken a dramatic step to protect its taxpayers.


The village filed suit Friday in Cook County Circuit Court to seek permission to contract fire protection services with a private company.


The village's contract with its firefighters union has expired.  The village sees a contract with a private service provider - a contract that would keep its firefighters employed - as its best chance to save the village from a financial disaster.


North Riverside officials say they don't have the money to make payments into the firefighters' pension fund.  In 2003, the required annual payment from the village was $175,793.  Last year, it was $773,055.  The village relies heavily on sales tax revenue from a strip mall.  When the recession hit, the village stopped making payments for three years, 2009, 2010 and 2011.


A few months ago, the village announced it would seek a contract with a local ambulance compnay to provide firefighter services.  The village agreed to hold off and try to negotiate with the union, but those negotiations were unsuccessful.


The private contract makes sense.


North Riverside estimates it would save more than $745,000 next year and $4 million over five years in costs for insurance, overtime, sick leave and pensions by shifting employees to the private company.  The firefighters' traditional pension plan would be frozen; they would not lose accrued benefits.  Going forward, they'd be offered a 401(k) retirement plan, like many private-sector employees.


The city's 12 firefighters and four lieutenants would keep their jobs and current salaries but would work for Paramedic Services of Illinois, which already provides ambulance service for the village.


It's sensible.  A village the size of North Riverside doesn't need its own fire department.  There are very few structural fires in the village.  Most calls are for paramedic services.  If a fire does break out, citizens are going to expect trained, prepared firefighters.  They're not going to worry about who's writing their paychecks.


North Riverside is taking dramatic action to stablize its finances and provide more efficient services.  Every town should watch this closely.  It could save them from their own financial disaster.