Three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills later, North Riverside is back where it was in September 2014.

The village was trying to figure out a way to decrease the cost of delivering firefighting services and union firefighters had invoked their right to arbitration to resolve an impasse over contract negotiations.

That’s exactly the place where things stand now, after the circuit court, appellate court and an Illinois Labor Relations Board administrative law judge repeatedly rebuffed the village’s plan to privatize the fire department by unilaterally terminating the union contract.

In October or November, the matter will head to the place it was always going to end up – in front of a labor arbitrator. Is it possible that the arbitrator sides with the village and allows it to terminate the contract? Sure. Is it likely? Not even remotely.

The pressures of pensions will remain, but instead of the privatization path, the village needs to begin thinking about possibly consolidating firefighting services by forming a fire protection district.

There are small towns with full-time departments that face the same kinds of mounting pension pressures. That’s where we see the solution – sharing the burden by spreading out the costs, but not through privatization.

Had the village gone down that path back in 2014, it might be closer to a solution. Instead, we’re starting over, and it’s been a very expensive detour.

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