After holding the line on changing the way the village offered post-retirement health benefits in its last contract, the union representing North Riverside’s patrolmen and police sergeants gave up the lifetime health insurance perk in its new three-year contract, which was approved by the village board on June 2.

The contract is retroactive to May 1, 2013 and expires on April 30, 2016.

As of Jan. 2, 2014, any person hired as a police officer in the village of North Riverside will have to find health insurance on their own once they retire, ending a decades-long tradition.

Instead, the village will contribute 1.5 percent of a police officer’s base salary into a Retirement Health Savings account, which will be matched by the employee to provide a fund to help pay for health insurance after retirement.

By accepting that concession, police have a contract that now matches the ones covering police dispatchers and firefighters with respect to post-retirement health benefits. The village ended lifetime health insurance for new employees in 2011. The lifetime health insurance benefits extended to employee’s families.

“That was clearly the major bargaining point,” said North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. “Down the road, it was very expensive to cover health insurance for those who no longer work here.

“We won’t feel the savings now, but we will down the road,” said Hermanek.

That’s because the contract still provides lifetime health insurance benefits to anyone hired as a police officer prior to Jan. 2, 2014 — which at this time includes all of the officers on the force.

The police union decided it could live with giving up the lifetime insurance for new employees in exchange for wage increases and maintaining the post-retirement health benefits for those on the force already.

“The village was really looking to pursue that option,” said Sgt. Frank Schmalz, president of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council. “We got wage increases and were able to lock in a cap on insurance for active employees.”

Employees hired prior to that cutoff date will continue to receive post-retirement health insurance benefits. According to the contract, those employees will, for the rest of their lives, continue to pay the same percentage of health insurance premiums as they did on their last date of employment.

Effective May 1, 2013, the employee share of health insurance premiums was 10 percent. That number jumped to 12 percent on May 1, 2014 and will rise again to 12.5 percent on May 1, 2015.

While giving in on the issue of post-retirement health insurance, police officers will receive base pay raises amounting to 7.5 percent over the three-year life of the contract.

However, for officers with fewer than seven years of experience, raises will be much greater, due to step increases.

For example, a rookie patrol officer who began working for the village on May 1, 2013 was paid $52,277. On May 1, 2015, that same officer’s salary, because of step raises, will be $70,199 — an increase in pay of 34.3 percent.

A patrol officer in his seventh year on the force on May 1, 2015 will be making $90,956. After seven years, step raises are given after completing 20 years and again after 25 years.

The top pay for a patrol officer — with more than 25 years of service — will be $94,630 on May 1, 2015. The top pay for a sergeant with more than 25 years of service on May 1, 2015 will be $104,370.