We hope North Riverside officials have a Plan B for balancing the village’s budget because it’s looking more and more like the courts aren’t going to bail them out.
Last week, a Cook County judge ruled that contract arbitration between the village and its firefighters union can move forward despite the fact that the village believes it has no contract with firefighters and that it should be free to privatize the department.
That ruling, says the village’s attorney, doesn’t mean that the judge won’t ultimately side with the village and allow the privatization to take place. But we think such an unprecedented ruling is unlikely to come from the circuit court.
Even if a higher court ultimately rules that North Riverside has the right to unilaterally terminate the union contract of a public safety agency, it’s also unlikely that such a ruling is going to come anytime soon.
The 2014-15 fiscal year for North Riverside ends April 30. By the end of January — probably the soonest anything will be decided — the village will be three-quarters through a year in which they hoped to save $700,000 by privatizing the department. Not only will the village not have saved that money, it will have spent thousands more fighting the lawsuit.
There is still time for the village and the firefighters union to come to an agreement and for the village to find a way to fund its pension obligations before 2016, which is when the state has said it will begin deducting sales tax revenue in order to make the pension fund whole.
It’s going to take a little give and take on both sides. And we continue to remind the village that its lifetime health insurance perk for village employees is still at least as much of a future burden as its pensions.
And again, we remind the village that while the fire and police pension obligations are mandated by law, the health insurance perk isn’t.
If this lawsuit by the village goes the way we think it’s going to go, it’s going to be time for village officials to begin to think long and hard about some tough decisions — ones that won’t jeopardize public safety — to right the village’s financial ship.
This can’t be about making political rivals pay a price. It has to be about how to serve the best interests of all North Riverside residents.