As a former trustee and former River Forest Pension Fund Board member, I can state unequivocally that the River Forest pension funds have been grossly underfunded for years [To state legislators: Reform pensions, Viewpoints, Dec. 1].

As a member of firemen’s pension board, I personally addressed several village boards asking that the levies submitted by the Illinois Department of Insurance be accepted and that the amount proposed by the state be levied. In virtually every instance, the River Forest board provided a self-serving actuarial report that conveniently determined the levy amount required was substantially lower than what the state actuaries had determined.

To add insult to injury, I was once told by a former finance committee chair (who went on to higher office) that, given the amount of money in the fund, no firefighter would ever have to worry about receiving his pension.

In a letter posted by the Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability at the Civic Federation (of which you are or were a member) regarding the current pension crisis, it was stated that “…it was caused by 30 years of pension underfunding…”

This deliberate underfunding was done without regard for future taxpayers. The state politicians used state-controlled pension funds as their own personal slush funds, while local politicians took the opportunity to artificially keep the pension levies at a minimum so they could snap their suspenders and tell voters how they were keeping a lid on the taxes — all the while knowing that the deadlines set by the state pols to fund the pensions to 100 percent would be extended over and over.

Admittedly there have been abuses of the pension system. Last-minute pay increases to favored employees, make-believe job descriptions, lateral moves within the municipality and padding of pay scales, unfortunately, are and continue to be the norm in several municipalities.

To my knowledge, none of those shenanigans occurred in River Forest, unless you count the case of providing a former village administrator with a whopping pay raise the year before he retired. (As a sitting trustee at the time, I argued vehemently against the move.) Municipal politicians have been just as guilty with their practices of offering “buyout” incentives to veteran public safety personnel. These villages reasoned that giving an older employee an incentive to retire is a win-win situation. The higher-paid employee is off the payroll and substituted by a lower-paid, entry-level replacement (or no replacement at all), and then the burden is shifted to the pension fund to pay the pension. These schemes worked well until recently.

It is downright insulting to be made the scapegoat for the fiscal crisis when former politicians turned lobbyists work the back halls of the Capitol to cut sweetheart deals for favored firms, with absolutely no regard for taxpayers. Pay-to-play politics advanced by the lobbyists are as much, if not more, to blame for the general situation.

It is also insulting to have someone arbitrarily suggest extended retirement ages and pension caps to a select group, with no intimate knowledge of the professions, insinuating that will somehow be the magic bullet for our salvation. Perhaps we would be better served if you asked the state legislators to prevent the lobbyists from bid-rigging for the benefit of cronies and allow some honest-to-goodness competitive bids for contracts. Perhaps you should ask the legislators to stop inserting pork into the bills that are passed. Perhaps you should ask the legislators to stop squandering money that we don’t have.

Don’t blame the public safety workers for inept or unethical political actions. We didn’t create this mess, so don’t make us the scapegoats for the actions of others.

Russ Nummer is a River Forest resident who formerly served on the village board and as River Forest fire chief.

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