THE LANDMARK VIEW
If negotiations between the village of Brookfield and its police union are going well, what would they look like when they’re going bad?
A day after a negotiating session that village officials termed productive, police officers cranked up the siren and deposited a flier on local doorsteps claiming the impending layoffs of two officers would put citizens and police officers at risk.
The flier worked like a charm. Residents, fearful that crime would run rampant and Brookfield streets would be unsafe, packed the village board meeting room – coincidentally named after a former police chief – to demand that the village give police officers whatever they want.
Who wants fewer police officers? Hands? No one, of course. Who wants to pay more taxes to give police officers whatever they want? Hands?
This is the eternal struggle. There is a complicated relationship here and there’s no simple answer, despite claims to the contrary.
Residents, who pay millions in property taxes, expect certain services to be delivered by the village, particularly for public safety. Public safety is the undisputed cornerstone of village service.
And while police officers, for example, are proud to deliver that service and do it admirably, they also have certain expectations, fostered over many years by elected officials who often are easy marks in labor negotiations.
The reason? Well, the reason is what happened Monday night in Brookfield. No elected official wants to be seen as soft on crime or anti-police. It’s political suicide.
And on Monday night, there were plenty of people eager to hand elected officials the knife with which to do the deed.
Here’s the trouble. The expectation of perpetual salary increases is unrealistic. In 2002, the voters generously passed a referendum to hire more police and firefighters. The referendum, it was estimated at the time, would give the village an additional $1.3 million in revenue for public safety.
That money was long ago eaten up by increases in salaries and pension obligations. From 2004 to 2010, according to village records, police and fire salaries (including benefits and overtime) increased by $1.14 million. Meanwhile, the village’s pension obligation for police and fire increased 278 percent – by over $1 million since 2004.
So costs for public safety since the 2002 referendum have jumped well over $2 million per year, far more than the $1.3 million envisioned by the police and fire referendum. With the village’s ability to raise taxes capped, it has been impossible for Brookfield and many other municipalities across Illinois to have revenues keep pace with expenditures. The numbers just don’t add up.
And while you can argue that certain village decisions in the past couple of years got Brookfield to this point quicker than it might have – and we agree that case can be made – this was always going to be the end result.
So, why is the union whipping up the pressure on the village? Because the village is vulnerable to criticism, and they see it as a way of getting something during a time when almost no one is getting anything.