“Did you look at your water bill yet?” A reader in Lake Forest, Illinois told us he got a call from his neighbor asking that, and sent along his bill, an excerpt from which is below. It turns out plenty of homeowners in Lake Forest were angered to see a new charge for police and fire pensions on their water/sewer/refuse bills, according to a resident we talked to.
It’s certainly not that $20 will break the budget for folks in Lake Forest, which is among Illinois’ richest communities. It’s partly the lack of reporting and transparency on the new charge and the process behind its assessment that has them upset. So far, we’ve been unable to find anything in the public record on it. Rather than go through the procedures for adding more to its property tax bills, Lake Forest apparently just added a pension charge to utility bills.
The only thing comparable we’ve seen in Illinois is a “public safety pension fee” Danville added to its sewer and garbage collection fees, though they did so very openly.
Lake Forest’s police and firefighter pensions are 54% and 72% funded, respectively, according to the most recent state data (from 2016). Their combined unfunded liability is about $37 million.
Lake Forest’s approach raises other questions beyond the process by which it was implemented. It apparently will amount to a flat $80 per year. Is that per water meter, per property or what? What about apartment and condominiums? Commercial properties?
Lake Forest is the kind of place where plenty of residents already have second or third homes in other states. It’s no accident to see many Florida license plates there in the summer. Many have already changed residences and moved their registrations.
It’s not about $20 per quarter or even the process behind it. It’s about a signal — another signal to residents that “they’re coming for your money,” as Warren Buffett recently said about Illinois and other states with severe pension crises.
–Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.
UPDATE: As indicated in comments below and from another note on Facebook, it appears this charge has been in place for at least a couple years, starting at a lesser amount.