Pension Plan Membership as a Factor in Jump of Net Pension Liability

DeKalb’s latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is out. It covers Fiscal Year 2016, which ended June 30, 2016. The big news is the net pension liability.

Public safety expenses related to the operations of both the Police Department and Fire Department accounted for the largest share of expenses at $33,400,660 or 50.1% of the total. This represents a 50.1% increase from the FY15 total of $22,259,920. This increase was due primarily to the increase in the net pension liability for police and fire pension plans.

Yes, the city’s net financial position was reduced in one year by $12.4 million, and an increase in long-term liabilities accounts for about three quarters of the loss.

We can attribute a combination of factors in the increase in liabilities, not the least of which were investment returns coming in well under the actuarial assumption of 7.5%. However, today I’d like to focus on the growth of membership in the public safety pension plans, because it’s shocking to see them escalate like this while DeKalb itself is shrinking.

The growth is driven by the hiring spree of the past four years, along with increases in the numbers of retirees.

Below are the hiring numbers reported in the CAFR, expressed as the annual budgeted numbers of police officers and fire fighters.

The increases in PD hires shown are budgeted increases for sworn officers only, which reached a record high of 65 in FY2014 and stayed there. This has occurred despite a loss of at least 3,000 in population since our peak in 2007-8, not including whatever chunk of NIU’s enrollment nosedive isn’t included in census.

Incidentally, the numbers of civilian employees in the PD have also jumped during the course of this administration. In FY2012, there were 24.5 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in civilian employees, and in FY2016 it was 34. Overall, then, PD grew from 85.5 FTEs (officers plus civilians) to 99 in FY2016. Examples of civilian PD are employees in telecommunications, administrative support staff in the Crime Free Housing division, and school crossing guards.

Below are the retiree numbers.

I’ll save discussion of the actual money involved for another time.

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