A recent article in the Landmark (“North Riverside privatization plan draws fire,” News, July 16), which was focused on the firefighters’ union, left out some important facts that North Riverside residents should know about the village’s proposal to continue providing safe and responsive fire protection services through a new model using a private company.
First of all, you all know this company very well. For the past 28 years, Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI) has provided privatized ambulance and emergency response services to local residents and businesses, saving lives and working side-by-side with the Village’s firefighters.
PSI, whose paramedics are certified as firefighters as well, has been asked to develop a proposal that will offer employment to all 16 of the village’s current firefighters. Firefighters will maintain their current base salaries, earned pension benefits, health insurance and a new 401(k) plan through PSI. All will get their earned pensions to date. The savings to the village will come in the form of no future pension obligations and significant reductions in overtime.
To suggest that PSI firefighters will somehow be sub-par is a direct hit on your current firefighters as, again, all will be offered to stay on in North Riverside. And, as new firefighters/paramedics are needed, all PSI employees are trained through the same programs, at the same fire academies, to pass the same state standards that your current firefighters meet.
Even if none of the firefighters decide to stay with North Riverside, PSI has experienced firefighters and paramedics on staff who will move to North Riverside, providing comparable and experienced protective services. PSI firefighters, who are also paramedics, train at the same academies and are held to the same standards as every licensed firefighter in the state of Illinois.
It was raised that the North Riverside fire department will be a revolving door if privatized … that firefighters will leave seeking more lucrative future pensions in other communities. That does not bear out in fact. Lincolnwood Fire Department, which PSI has run for 25 years, has terrific longevity, with the average length of service for its 10 officers at 23.8 years on the job, and more than 15 years on average for its firefighters.
Is North Riverside in bad financial shape, and being called before the state because of underfunding its pensions? Yes, and we currently project a Fiscal Year 2015 deficit of $1.9 million – $1.8 million of which results directly from public pension obligations.
We have been drawing from our general reserves to continue providing vital services to the village — clearly not a feasible long-term strategy. Unfortunately, even if the pensions were paid in full each year, the village would still be in arrears by more than $1 million and needing to look for ways to staunch the continuation of a growing pension obligation.
North Riverside firefighters put their lives on the line to protect our community, and deserve a good wage. But, our firefighters make over $200,000 with salary and benefits, and our lieutenants make even more. It is not sustainable. Those salaries are higher than a lot of other firefighters — more than Orland Park Fire Protection District employees earn who protect over 75,000 residents — and I daresay, a lot more than our average residents make.
As your elected mayor, I will always put residents’ and businesses’ needs first. I can’t in good conscience continue to kick this problem down the road. Tough issues require thoughtful and bold action, and privatization is an excellent solution. I urge all residents to keep informed of the facts on this important topic through our website at www.northriverside-il.org.
Hubert Hermanek Jr., mayor
Ed.note: The firefighter compensation figure stated above, according to North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti, is based on 2014-15 fiscal year budget numbers and includes the projected cost for the village’s post-retirement healthcare insurance benefit.