Police Merger: Social Security Benefits 'Big Hurdle' in FOP Negotiations
Clarendon Hills officers currently pay into Social Security and receive Social Security benefits when they retire, a practice that would have to change if consolidation happens.
Determining retirement benefits for officers serving a proposed Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills consolidated police department, and particularly how they would differ from those currently received by Clarendon Hills officers, is the biggest challenge in merger negotiations that resumed Tuesday between the two villages and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), officials from both villages say.
The Clarendon Hills Police Department was among a minority of agencies that in 1983, when given a chance to opt out, decided to have its officers continue paying into Social Security and retiring with Social Security benefits on top of their standard, locally funded police pension, Clarendon Hills village manager Randy Recklaus said, and Clarendon Hills officers continue to contribute today.
Hinsdale Police Department officers are among the majority of Illinois officers who do not pay into Social Security and do not receive Social Security benefits, and Recklaus said if the departments were to consolidate, the new department would not legally be allowed to offer Social Security benefits.
“Our current understanding is that Social Security would not be an option for the merged department,” Recklaus said.
Reaching compromise on Social Security, and therefore on a general merger agreement with the FOP seen as important for the passage of needed state legislation, is not proving easy.
Hinsdale village manager David Cook said Tuesday, after participating with Recklaus in the latest negotiation session, that researching the Social Security issue and finding possible solutions is taking some time.
There are other items still to be negotiated between the villages and the FOP, Cook said, “But there’s no question [Social Security] is the big hurdle.”
The FOP represents patrol officers only, but all Clarendon Hills officers, including the chief and his sergeants, pay into Social Security and receive those benefits.
Clarendon Hills Chief Ted Jenkins, who is also participating in negotiations along with Hinsdale Chief Brad Bloom, declined to give a personal opinion on the Social Security issue.
“At this point my job is to look at the feasibility of consolidating the police department with Hinsdale and not so much how it effects me personally,” Jenkins said. “We’re trying to negotiate this contract with the bargaining unit. That’s our focus right now.”
Jenkins and Recklaus said that though the Clarendon Hills department is in the minority of departments that have the Social Security benefit, there are other local departments that opted-in in 1983, including those of Addison, Burr Ridge, Countryside and Westmont.
Recklaus said that, if a compromise was reached and current Clarendon Hills officers dropped Social Security participation, they would get some Social Security benefits upon retirement based on money already paid. But those benefits, Recklaus said, would be proportionally less than those they officers would receive if they continued paying into the system because some of the benefits are determined by factors other than the amount employees have deducted from their paychecks.
For the sake of private negotiations, Recklaus said he did not want to discuss what offers have been and could be proposed that would prompt the FOP to drop the Social Security benefit for Clarendon Hills officers.
“Aside from laying out the problem, I don’t want to get into potential solutions,” Recklaus said.
It’s a challenge, the village manager said, but Tuesday’s session did not result in the determination that the merger wasn’t feasible—the villages are aiming for another negotiation session in early February—so Recklaus hasn’t given up.
“It’s something that we’re working through in good faith with the union and we’ll see if we can find a solution for everyone involved,” Recklaus said before reflecting on the difficulty of the entire process of merging departments, which officials say could save both villages significant money in the future.
“There’s a reason nobody has ever done this before in the state.”
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